Utah bill to fund homeless facilities and services advances to House

Tuesday , March 01, 2016 - 7:31 AM

SALT LAKE CITY — Weber County Commissioner James Ebert was one of several individuals who spoke in support of HB436, a bill that would provide up to $10 million in funding to beef up programs for the homeless and to help them get back on their feet.

“The homeless population is more of an urban county and Wasatch Front issue. There are some that stretch all the way into our Washington County,” Ebert said. “This is a population that we need to have a very unified mission.”

At present, Ebert said homeless efforts tend to be “siloed,” but he touted Ogden’s new Lantern House and its end goal to “return members of this population back into housing, to help them find jobs and make sure their children get great education.

”This bill starts the process of creating a more unified mission across the state, and really is transitioning away from just a shelter concept to a more coordination of care concept,“ Ebert said. 

The homeless community is multi-layered, Ebert added. While some single adults are homeless, shelters are also serving more families. And members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community are also struggling to survive on city streets.

Ebert said that providing those homeless individuals with the services they need can ease their successful transition back into society.

”Its definitely how we look at this population and that we take better care for it, care specific to their individual needs,“ Ebert said.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton, advanced unanimously out of the House Economic Development and Workforce Services committee Monday, Feb. 29, and now moves to deliberation by the full House.

”We’ve seen the homeless issue grow throughout the state. Some in many cases through no choice of their own were left in situations that were difficult in terms of having a place to live,“ Gibson told the panel, saying HB436 aims to address the problem from a statewide perspective rather than community by community. ”It cannot be just about placing people in shelters, but there have to be services that help them with job creation skills, living skills and so forth.“

The bill seeks $7 million in one-time funding and $2.5 million in continued funding, an allocation that would build to $20 million in one-time funding and $7 million in ongoing funding over three years, Gibson said.  

The one-time dollars would be used to build two new shelters, renovate existing structures, and spread homeless facilities out to be positioned near needed services, Gibson said. The ongoing dollars would be used to provide more case management, skill-building and training, of which $4 million would be used in Salt Lake County where the homeless population is larger. Ogden and Provo would be able to tap these funds through grants.

”We have a big need right now with families,“ Gibson said, pointing to the Road Home shelter in downtown Salt Lake City where violence erupted this past weekend in a confrontation between homeless residents and police officers. A 17-year-old male remains hospitalized in critical condition after being shot by police.

Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski said the Road Home facility, originally built to house 300, now services up to 1,000 homeless individuals on any given day.

”This legislation would be hugely helpful to us,“ Biskupski said, to meet service needs through smaller resource centers rather than providing shelter primarily under one roof where criminal elements can infiltrate to sell drugs and cause an additional subset of problems.

Ebert told the committee that Weber County is excited to start working with the rest of the state on the issue. 

”Come on up, we’ll show you what we have at the Lantern House,“ Ebert said, touting its onsite behavioral and physical health services. ”We understand this is a regional problem for Weber County into Box Elder, and also into Davis County. And what we hope is that this will move forward and become a statewide project.“

Contact reporter Cathy McKitrick at 801-625-4214 or cmckitrick@standard.net. Follow her on Twitter at @catmck. 

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