OGDEN — Weber County is a leader in an area where most officials probably want to lag far, far behind.
According to a study commissioned by the Weber Housing Authority, Weber County has a higher concentration of homelessness than the state as a whole and even exceeds the rate in much-larger Salt Lake County. Left unchecked, the study goes on, the problem could get worse.
The county could be “headed for catastrophe,” warned Andi Beadles, the housing authority executive director.
The study cited the limited supply of low-cost housing geared to the lowest income population segment and declining wages for those at the bottom of the economic spectrum, Beadles said. “As rents become less affordable, households become cost-burdened and more prone to eviction and homelessness,” reads the report, prepared by consultant Ashley Barker Tolman Shuler.
The average head-of-household renter, the report goes on, “would need to work 1.5 full-time jobs to cover housing expenses for a two-bedroom unit in Weber County.”
Anecdotal information indicates that Operation Rio Grande in Salt Lake City in 2017, when authorities forced the homeless out of the Rio Grande district there, has also pushed the numbers here up, Beadles said. That’s been a steady refrain from local leaders.
To address the situation, the report calls for hiring of an expert to guide Weber County efforts to address homelessness, a homeless services system coordinator. It also touts a “housing first” approach in improving the situation — that is, putting a high priority on securing housing for the homeless on the presumption that having a home will enable them to more easily address other issues.
Per the report, released in full Friday, May 10 and focus of discussion on May 6 by leaders from across Weber County, 2,551 homeless lived here as of 2018, up 66 percent from 1,533 in 2014. The 2018 total trails the 10,807 homeless count for Salt Lake County — a rise of just 11 percent there from the 2014 figure of 9,736. But the Weber County figure represents about 1% of the county’s population while just 0.94% of Salt Lake County’s population counted as homeless.
In the state as a whole, just 0.49% of the population was homeless.
Compounding things, Weber County is home to 13% to 16% of the state’s homeless, the study said, but received just 8.9% of state funding in 2019 meant to aid the population.
BY THE RIVERS, IN THE FOOTHILLS
Weber County Commissioner Scott Jenkins, chairman of the county’s Local Homeless Coordinating Committee, said at the May 6 meeting that the largest share of homeless people seem to be in Ogden. “Ogden City, there’s no question they’re the ones that are really taking it on the chin right now,” he said.
Mark Johnson, the chief administrative officer for Ogden, said the homeless are scattered. “They’re hidden along the river. They’re hidden in the foothills,” he said at last week’s gathering, the monthly meeting of the Weber Area Council of Governments, or WACOG.
But the issue isn’t Ogden’s alone. As the city presses the homeless from encampments along the waterways in the city, they move further west in the county, Johnson said.
Roy Mayor Bob Dandoy said he’s noticed homeless pockets in forested areas of West Haven. “In reality, I don’t think any of us are isolated,” he said.
Beadles said she’s met with representatives from United Way of Northern Utah on the issue and that the agency may have funds to help hire the homeless services coordinator, as recommended in the study. Still, more money would be needed and securing the funds would be the next step.
Most homeless in Weber County are single and unattached, according to the study.
The homeless figures are contained in a database created with state money after Operation Rio Grande, with the numbers coming from shelters and other groups that aid the homeless, Beadles said.
The study also calls for creation of more affordable housing in Weber County, efforts to pinpoint those most at risk for homelessness and more case managers to aid the homeless, among many other things.