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SALT LAKE CITY — Reducing homelessness starts and ends with affordable housing, a longtime advocate for impoverished Utahns told a panel assembled by Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams on Thursday.
It starts with developing more low-income housing at the front end "so people don't become homeless in the first place," says Glenn Bailey, executive director of Crossroads Urban Center.
When people prepare to leave supportive housing, they need a place to land, he said.
"People don't have a place to live," he said, speaking during the inaugural meeting of Salt Lake County's Homeless Services Collective Impact Council.
Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams formed the council to focus on supporting and enhancing services for homeless people using best data and evidence-based practices to help more people in Utah "move from crisis to stability."
Utah's collaborative approach to end chronic homelessness and homelessness among veterans has been highly successful. Chronic homelessness has been reduced by 72 percent since 2005, McAdams noted. Homelessness among veterans has virtually been eliminated, he said.
"We should be proud of ourselves for what we have done, but I think we all know there are some challenges we need to face," McAdams said.
We should be proud of ourselves for what we have done, but I think we all know there are some challenges we need to face.
–Ben McAdams, SL County mayor
Some issues have been framed by an ongoing community conversation centered on Pioneer Park. The goals of curbing panhandling and reducing crime in the park should be part of the conversation, McAdams said, adding, "I know that’s not purely a homeless issue."
While some on the council suggested that Utahns should travel to other cities nationwide to learn from their approaches, Gordon Walker, director of the Utah Division of Housing and Community Development, said major cities and states are coming to Utah to learn about its successful strategies. A team from Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper's administration will soon visit Utah. Representatives from the cities of Denver and Boise were in attendance Thursday.
"You're the best practice," Walker said of various stakeholders.
Still, said Fraser Nelson, the county's director of data and innovation, the expertise of council members, combined with data and research on best practices, can further refine services and help the group come together around common goals.
John Wilkes, a formerly homeless Utahn who has led Fourth Street Clinic's consumer advisory board and has lived on the streets, in a homeless shelter, in supportive housing and now in a subsidized apartment, said housing solves many problems but is not an end-all.
The system needs to be refined so people are placed in housing sooner and placed in appropriate types and levels of services, Wilkes said.
"It doesn't end there. I still struggle," he said.