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Midvale Journal


Feb 29, 2024 11:21AM ● By Aimee Winder

This is the first in a series of articles where I will answer specific constituent questions about the issues facing Salt Lake County. A few weeks ago, I invited followers on social media to submit  questions, and multiple people asked about homelessness and what the county is doing to address it.

Homelessness is an extremely complex issue without a one-size-fits-all solution. Given that its cause stems from an array of contributing factors, including mental illness, substance abuse, job loss, lack of affordable housing, disabilities, and many more, identifying solutions to meet the needs of Utahns experiencing homelessness is a monumental task.

According to the State’s Annual Report on Homelessness, Utah’s 2023 Point-in-Time (PIT) metric for counting homelessness saw an increase in the number of individuals experiencing chronic homelessness. In 2022, of the 7,619 people who enrolled in emergency shelters, transitional housing, or a permanent housing project, 53% of them were experiencing homelessness for the very first time in their lives.

Salt Lake County is part of a growing coalition of elected officials, city and state government agencies, business owners, and community organizations working to find lasting solutions and implement the best practices to end homelessness. The result is a robust homeless service system that unites communities and service providers in profoundly new ways. Our shared vision is “to make homelessness rare, brief, and nonrecurring so that all people experiencing homelessness can thrive to their fullest potential and that our communities are stable and safe for everyone.”

As a collective effort, Salt Lake County helped establish the plan to provide overflow shelter and resources this winter to add 695 beds for Utahns experiencing homelessness.

Under a 2023 state law, Salt Lake County implemented Code Blue Alerts. The alerts are issued when temperatures are expected to drop to dangerous levels of 15 degrees Fahrenheit with wind chill for 2 hours or more during a 24-hour period.

Once an alert is issued, designated shelters across the county expand their services, increase capacity, and expedite intake processes. Additionally, outreach teams increase efforts to transport individuals to resource facilities. This valuable program provides 235 beds in Salt Lake County.

While the government is responding to the homeless situation by enforcing “no camping” ordinances, there are other things needed upstream to prevent homelessness. Affordable housing is key. The county contributed Federal American Rescue Plan (ARPA) dollars to approve over 200 affordable units over the last two years. There are also needed resources for those with mental health and substance abuse issues. The county is working closely with the state on a new model to improve our homelessness situation.

Though the homelessness situation is incredibly complicated, we are working hard to find solutions – both in preventing homelessness and helping those struggling to find a path to self-sufficiency.