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OGDEN — Homelessness in Weber County more than doubled from 2014 to 2018 and is growing at a faster rate than both Salt Lake County and Utah as a whole, a new study found.
The “annual unduplicated count” of homeless people in Weber County increased by 66 percent — from 1,533 people in 2014 to 2,551 people in 2018 — far faster than Salt Lake’s 11 percent increase in the same time, the study shows.
The number of people both in shelters and on the streets on a single night rose 48 percent in the same time, from 254 people at the beginning of 2014 to 376 people at the beginning of 2018. According to the study, which was commissioned by the Weber Housing Authority, Weber County’s homeless population is “proportionately higher” than Salt Lake County’s.
Though she wasn’t expecting the numbers to be this high, Weber County Housing Authority executive director Andi Beadles said she and others in the city could tell something was happening.
They decided to collect data and commission the study when state entities began asking them if Weber County was seeing any effects from Operation Rio Grande — an effort by local leaders to crack down on the downtown Salt Lake area where most of the state’s homeless resources are located.
Though Operation Rio Grande may have been a contributing factor, the study did not find it to be the main cause of the dramatic increase, Beadles said. Instead, it was what she described as a “perfect storm” of rising housing prices and decreasing wages.
“A lot of our homeless do have jobs but just are not able to find livable rental units,” she said.
According to the study, “The average head of household renter would need to work 1.5 full-time jobs to cover housing expenses for a two-bedroom unit in Weber County.”
Beadles said Weber County does not currently have the resources to deal with this fast-approaching crisis, but that’s “kind of why we’re trying to bring light to it,” she said.
While the northern county is home to 13 to 16 percent of the homeless population, it receives only 8.9 percent of the funding, the study found.
“We need to bring awareness so we can bring additional resources to our community,” Beadles said. “We have great political leaders that have said, ‘Hey, let us know what we can do. We can try to rally the Legislature to get some funding.’ But we didn’t have numbers. We didn’t have a plan in place. Now we do. Now I feel like we can strategically make a case for additional dollars.”
Weber County’s plan is detailed in the 135-page report, but Beadles says it comes down to reorganization. The outside consultant the county hired to assess the situation has suggested Weber hire a homeless services system coordinator and focus on a housing-first approach.
Various subcommittees will also work on three main issues, including:
- Making homelessness “rare," "brief" and "non-recurring.”
- Focusing on data. (“Right now we don’t use any data even though there is data available, and we should be using it,” Beadles said.)
- Improving planning and oversight.
“We’re lucky in Weber County because all of our homeless providers are so willing to work together and so willing to find solutions for the issues. … We have the support of our community," she said.