Utah says it won ‘war on homelessness’, but shelters tell a different story


By Max R. Weller

This article from the U.S. edition of the Guardian is one that I missed a year ago, but it paints an entirely different picture from what Housing First advocates would have us believe . . . Excerpt copied below:

A year after Utah officials announced to great fanfare that chronic homelessness had been nearly wiped out, a battle is brewing over the future of the largest shelter in the state.

Not because the Road Home, in Salt Lake City, and its 1,000-plus beds aren’t needed in the Utah capital – but because they are.

On Sunday night, the massive operation housed 1,041 men, women and children on triple bunks in overflow dormitories, in small rooms for desperate families, on so-called medical beds for the sickest and most frail, on yoga mats on the floor.

Some had spent more than 3,000 nights in the jammed facility, one of the nation’s biggest. More than 300 fit the shelter’s definition of chronic homelessness, even if they don’t match the federal government’s guidelines, which the state used to trumpet their good news a year ago on 28 April.

That’s when the state housing and community development division boasted in a press release: “Utah’s Chronic Homelessness Approaching ‘Functional Zero.’ State Achieves Goal Ten Years in the Making.” 

Headlines across the country lauded the Beehive State and its rare statewide Housing First program, which strives to place homeless people in permanent housing before addressing their addiction and mental health issues. Utah had cut the chronic ranks by 91% in the last decade, said Gordon Walker, division director at the time, and there were only 178 chronically homeless people left statewide.

“The surprisingly simple way Utah solved chronic homelessness and saved millions,” trumpeted the Washington Post. “Utah Reduced Chronic Homelessness by 91%; Here’s How”, cheered NPR. “Utah is winning the war on homelessness with ‘Housing First’ program”, said the Los Angeles Times.

Except no one at the state had bothered to run the announcement by service providers such as the Road Home and Crossroads Urban Center – groups that support the state’s efforts but also work each day with the men, women and children who still have no place to call home.

“Making a statement like that was in direct contrast to what you see on the street,” said Glenn Bailey, executive director of Crossroads, which runs a food pantry and thrift store and fights for economic justice. “It’s an exaggeration. It wasn’t helpful … since the recession, the largest single part of the homeless population that’s grown is families with children, and youth”.

When asked whether he agreed that Utah’s chronic homeless population was nearing “functional zero”, Road Home executive director Matt Minkevitch replied: “I would differ with that perspective.”

(Emphasis above is mine — MRW)

Utah is exhibit A for the most difficult reality of homelessness in the US today: It is possible to work hard, be innovative, make headway – all of which Utah has done – and still be nowhere near “winning the war on homelessness”, or even the fight to put a permanent roof over the most vulnerable . . .

On the coldest, dampest nights of the year, the Road Home cares for upwards of 1,300 people. Nine hundred or so sleep in the cinderblock facility, across the street from a soup kitchen and a day center run by Catholic Community Services. Around 300 are housed in the family shelter in Midvale, about 11 miles away.


It’s worth reading the entire article. Reminds me of what Housing First advocates here in Boulder, CO are claiming — which is so far out of line with what we can see on the streets that the do-gooders, chief among them Greg Harms of Boulder Shelter for the Homeless and Betsey Martens of Boulder Housing Partners, have destroyed their credibility among the homeless who don’t really trust the “system” in the first place.

There’s a helluva lot of money in it, however. Or there will be until private donors and government agencies alike wake up to the fact that — in the current system — More Homeless People = More Money. Of course, you have to pitch Housing First as a solution that actually works to continue milking more dollars:

Cash Cow

What about the homeless men, women, and children left out by Housing First? Look close, they’re huddling beneath the trees wrapped in recycled disaster blankets . . .

Meanwhile, the alcoholics in expensive HF apartments are still drinking themselves to death, at a slower rate in a few cases, but heading for an early grave just the same.

BTW, I was in Salt Lake City for about a month back in late 2004, and I stayed at the Road Home. It sounds to me like things are much worse now!

(E-mailed to Boulder City Council).


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s