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LAYTON — After a year of study, there is consensus about what Utah's system of homeless services should look like moving forward.
It's drastically different than the service network and approaches that exist now and would require a significant infusion of new financial resources, says Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams.
If Utah stays on the same course, "there's a future that's choosing us," he said.
A systemic realignment of services and approaches would be "a future we would choose."
McAdams pitched to lawmakers this week a request for $20 million in one-time funding to implement a new approach to the state's homeless services, the product of a year of study and deliberation by the county's Homeless Services Collective Impact Council and Salt Lake City's Homeless Services Site Evaluation Commission.
State funding would be paired with municipal funds and a private fundraising effort intended to change the system to place a greater emphasis on preventing homelessness, creating more appropriate exit paths from emergency shelters and developing more affordable housing.
McAdams, addressing the Utah Legislature's Social Services Appropriations Subcommittee, said preventing homelessness would not only save money, it would reduce trauma and result in better outcomes.
When a family breadwinner loses their job and files for unemployment, there's a higher likelihood they will become homeless, he said.
"If we can give them some temporary assistance, whether it's faith-based assistance or other type of voucher assistance, if we can keep them in their home, that's so much cheaper and more effective than watching them land in the shelter and trying to find a landlord that will take them back when they were just evicted from their last house for nonpayment," McAdams said during the subcommittee's recent meeting at Davis Behavioral Health.
"We don't have a good system right now that prevents homelessness."
Other new approaches include scattered site homeless services, meaning families with children would be served in smaller facilities separate from single adults who are experiencing homelessness.
Service models would be retooled as well to meet the needs of individual populations. A homeless family with a disabled child has drastically different needs than a homeless individual struggling with addiction and mental illness.
"As we recognize these individualized populations, we believe we can better serve their needs and help move them from crisis to stability more effectively than the one-size-fits-all approach," McAdams said.
Once people leave shelters, there needs to be more options for their next steps, whether that is rapid rehousing, permanent supportive housing or affordable housing.
A significant number of people who leave homeless shelters end up in jail, emergency rooms or institutions, McAdams said.
"Common exit paths from our services lead directly back to crisis and homelessness," a document prepared for lawmakers states.
Seventy-six percent of homeless individuals touch the criminal justice at some point, McAdams said.
"We don't do a good job or as good a job as we could to help them prevent and keep them out of homelessness, get them the treatment they need to manage a substance abuse issue or a mental health issue that is the root cause of their homelessness. We can do a better job of preventing homelessness and moving people out of homelessness," he said.
McAdams said the request is different than lawmakers have ever received because it is "geared toward a collective, systemwide outcome and helping us achieve these metrics rather than individually looking to put out fires."
While lawmakers acknowledged the value of the year of research and recommendations from the city and county study panels, the appropriations subcommittee has "no new money," said co-chairman Sen. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden. "What I understand so far, my social services committee is going to come out flat this year," despite $73 million in new requests, he said.
McAdams, a former state senator, said preparing Salt Lake County's budget recommendations for the coming year was likewise challenging.
"We wanted to make the request and let you know first of all, the great work that's been done and the consensus that has been forged and give you some hope we're not asking to sink money into a bottomless pit," he said.