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SALT LAKE CITY — It's not a competition per se.
But when nearly 60 communities collaborate on a single goal — housing 100,000 chronically homeless people nationwide within four years — it tends to sharpen each community's efforts.
“The 100,000 Homes Campaign sparked energy into our collaborative community," said Matt Minkevitch, executive director of The Road Home, a Salt Lake City nonprofit agency that houses, shelters and provides intensive case management for homeless men, women and children.
“Thanks to the campaign, we sharpened our focus toward ending homelessness, especially among veterans,” he said.
Earlier this week, organizers of the national campaign announced that the four-year goal had been achieved. Salt Lake City housed 615 people in 406 households since 2012 as part of the effort.
“The 100,000 Homes Campaign matters because it shows that ending homelessness is possible and measurable,” said campaign director Becky Kanis.
“These communities have shown that no one is beyond help or out of reach. Those are just stories we tell ourselves to avoid taking action. By using data and getting smarter about how we work, we can solve this problem and eliminate the national tragedy of homelessness,” Kanis said.
The 100,000 Homes Campaign is coordinated by Community Solutions, a nonprofit organization based in New York City.
Salt Lake City joined the effort in November 2012. The community is a member of the campaign's “2.5% Club,” which includes 57 communities committed to end chronic homelessness within three years.
According to the latest Point in Time Count of homeless individuals required by the federal government, 3.95 percent of Utah's homeless population is chronically homeless, down from 14 percent in 2005.
The federal government defines chronic homelessness as a person with a disabling condition who has been continuously homeless for a year or more or a like individual who has had at least four episodes of homelessness in the past three years.
"We always have people who unfortunately will go in to homelessness. … We try to reduce the numbers, and we have to keep working at it. In the end, you just want to make sure someone's time on the street is as short as possible," said Elizabeth Buehler, Salt Lake City's homeless services coordinator.
Buehler said another benefit of the campaign is that participating communities share strategies and best practices. Phoenix's practices to house its veterans helped guide Utah's efforts, she said.
We looked at one coast, then the other. We saw what New York was doing with scattered site approaches. Then we looked at Seattle and Portland, which was a project-based approach like Palmer Court and Sunrise Metro. We combined the two as a community and were trying to grow those efforts on both fronts as opposed to either or.
–Matt Minkevitch, executive director of The Road Home
Salt Lake's Housing Homeless Veterans Initiative was launched in November 2013 with the goal of housing 100 veterans in 100 days. Partner agencies were able to house 92 veterans in 50 days and share the model with other groups.
Prior to embarking on Salt Lake's decadelong commitment to end chronic homelessness, Utah officials studied the efforts of other cities, Minkevitch said.
"We looked at one coast, then the other. We saw what New York was doing with scattered site approaches. Then we looked at Seattle and Portland, which was a project-based approach like Palmer Court and Sunrise Metro. We combined the two as a community and were trying to grow those efforts on both fronts as opposed to either or," he said.
Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, The Road Home, the Veterans Administration, Volunteers of America — Utah, Salt Lake City Housing Authority and Housing Authority of Salt Lake County and others joined in announcing the benchmark.
“While we celebrate this fantastic milestone, our work in Salt Lake City is ongoing,” Mayor Becker said. “We will not be satisfied until we reach our goal of eliminating homelessness in our community.”
Minkevitch concurred, "There's no one around here who's ready to do an end zone dance."