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Gov. Cox proposes $186 million to address homelessness, behavioral health in 2025 budget

By Carlene Coombs - Daily Herald | Dec 4, 2023

Carlene Coombs, Daily Herald

Gov. Spencer Cox speaks at a press conference in West Valley City on Monday, Dec. 4, 2023.

Gov. Spencer Cox announced he is asking the Utah Legislature for around $186 million in the 2025 budget to address homelessness and behavioral health.

This proposal is part of the governor’s encompassing budget recommendations for the 2025 fiscal year and approval of the funds is at the whim of state lawmakers during the upcoming legislative session in January.

“We hear it all the time, the citizens are concerned about the rapid growth of homelessness and they’re saying they don’t feel safe on our streets, and yet there’s a lot of compassion and want to help people who are struggling,” the governor said when answering questions from reporters Monday.

Cox’s proposal contains $128 million for the current shelter system, $10 million for affordable housing preservation, $8 million for behavioral health, $30 million for “deeply affordable housing” and $10.6 million for a new “HOME” court system to move mental health cases out of criminal justice courts.

During Monday’s press conference, the governor emphasized the need for more behavioral health workers and to allow individuals with mental health conditions to receive treatment and stay out of the criminal justice system.

“Too often, those with serious mental illness or addictions are ending up in jail for a night and then released right back onto the street instead of getting the help that they need,” Cox said.

In the budget, Cox proposes $10 million one-time funding and more than $600,000 ongoing to create a “less restrictive” civil court option for those with mental illness.

Additionally, the governor wants funding to better connect individuals with mental illness and substance abuse disorders to treatment. Requests included funding for a behavioral health facility in West Jordan and a $6 million one-time investment and $190,000 ongoing funding for local governments to better manage parolees.

In the $8 million to address behavioral health, $3.3 million is a one-time expense for paid internships, loan forgiveness and training incentives, and $1.1 million is to staff a new community treatment center in West Valley City where Monday’s press conference was held. Another $555,000 is proposed for a review of professional licensing aimed at increasing licensing opportunities and $2.9 million would be for a rural receiving center and two additional mobile crisis teams.

The largest sum of the governor’s budget request was for $128 million to continue to support and expand the shelter system.

That funding would help the current emergency shelter system, provide support for two noncongregate shelters and two low-barrier shelters, winter response, low-barrier shelter development and support for cities that host emergency shelters.

A sum of $30 million was recommended for “deeply affordable housing,” which the governor clarified as housing for families who are making under $31,000 a year. Cox is also requesting $10 million for the Utah Housing Preservation Fund, a public-private partnership that purchases affordable housing and ensures it remains affordable for the next 20 years.

While it’s up to the Legislature to approve the budget, Cox said he is “confident” in the plan.

“We’re hopeful that the Legislature will see the wisdom in it, and we look forward to getting this done over the next few months,” he said.

In a statement, Utah Senate President Stuart Adams said homelessness has drastically risen in Salt Lake City and its surrounding areas and they cannot “sit back” as it happens.

“During the upcoming session, (the) Senate is committed to working with the governor and local leaders to address the cycle of homelessness and bolster mental health resources — creating real change and helping individuals get back on their feet,” he said in a written statement to the Daily Herald on Monday.

When asked what his priorities would be if the Legislature amended the proposal, the governor said supporting behavioral health services and shelters were among his priorities.

“I’m very passionate that we have to end unsanctioned camping in this state; that cannot be allowed to happen,” Cox said. “The only way to do that is if you have shelter space available, and so that piece is really important.”

The governor’s office will announce the remainder of its 2025 budget proposal on Tuesday.


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