Utah leaves the homeless out in the cold

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By McKhelyn Jones | Art & Culture Editor

Homelessness is a complex issue. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for it. Yet, there are things that can be done to increase the resources available for people in need. Last month, Draper City residents denied a proposal to build two homeless shelters near the city limits. While the reasons for the denial are valid, it still doesn’t change the fact that people in the state need help. Before we get all judgmental towards Draper, let’s check how we are holding up in the county.

According to the Utah Department of Workforce Services comprehensive report on homelessness, 2,807 Utahns were identified as homeless in January 2016. This was a 7.2 percent drop from 2015. These numbers are determined by a point-in-time count. A point-in-time count is “a physical count of all homeless persons who are living in emergency shelters, transitional housing, and on the streets in a single night … and provides a snapshot of homelessness on a single night.”

In Utah County, the total headcount of sheltered and unsheltered people was 178. This is a small number in comparison to the whole state, but it shows there are more homeless people down here than most people think.

In fact, there is a homeless center in Provo called the Food and Care Coalition that provides basic services to transient people in the county. Using motel vouchers and onsite beds, it “provides 12,000 units of housing annually,” said Brent Crane, director of the Food and Care Coalition in Provo.

“Our agency serves 300 to 400 daily and around 3,500 to 4,000 unduplicated clients annually,” Crane said. “We only give motel vouchers during winter months, as our priority is now providing a superior housing experience with the onsite beds.”

However, these vouchers won’t last because many motels have gone out of business or will be closing, Crane said. Utah County needs more housing, because only 1 in 50 people who receive housing vouchers find a place to stay. If they don’t, they must return the voucher.

According to Crane, the agency provides 100,000 plus meals annually, shower and laundry facilities, a barbershop, a hygiene room with various supplies (clothes, hygiene items, sleeping bags, blankets, etc.), case management, and emergency shelter. It also provides transitional housing using 38 private rooms onsite and basic medical, dental and mental health services.

The agency does a lot for people in need around Utah County, but they are almost alone in their endeavors. According to its website, Community Action Services and Food Bank in Provo also provides basic services to transients, like food and housing, as well as “providing them with the long-term solutions needed to rebuild their financial and social self-sufficiency.”

Both agencies work hard to provide for the homeless, but there is still more that can be done. While the shelters in Draper would have helped with some of this problem, more can be done in our own backyard to help curb homelessness.

“Funding is a major hindrance as Utah County does not have many foundations that are typically relied upon to drive charitable missions in their community,” Crane said. “We are doing great on making sure no one goes hungry [and] are generous with volunteering our time. What we lack are financial resources and opportunities to provide affordable housing.”