Changing the System
Most of the progress Utah has made in ending chronic homelessness has happened with no new money. Instead, we’ve freed up existing resources by creating efficiencies in the system and re-investing in proven approaches. Often that means partnering with non-profits and state, federal and local government agencies. Here are just a few examples of the resulting innovations.
Jobs and Income
Housing Utah’s homeless men and women is just the beginning. Once housed, the focus is getting tenants employed and helping them achieve independence. Toward that end, the Utah Division of Housing and Community Development partnered with the Department of Workforce Services to hire a job placement person dedicated to working with homeless clients. Roughly 30 percent of Utah’s HousingWorks residents have full- or part-time jobs.
For some of our tenants, disability is the only source of income. Without it, they couldn’t pay their rent. Yet navigating the disability maze is notoriously difficult, especially for homeless citizens. Paperwork requirements and communicating regularly with agencies and supervisors is tough for someone who doesn’t have a permanent address or phone, or who is new to housing.
A new program called SOAR, SSI/SSDI Outreach, Access and Recovery, alleviates that problem by creating teams of workers who flag homeless claims and then shepherd them through the maze.
Thirty-four states have SOAR programs, but Utah leads the nation with the most claims processed: 363 since August 2006.
The program started as a pilot in Salt Lake County, and is now being rolled out statewide. Social Security provides tenants income to keep up on their rent payments. The federally-funded benefits are also a boon to the local economy. Since moving into Sunrise Metro in downtown Salt Lake, 17 formerly homeless men and women tapped into social security and VA benefits, injecting $600,000 into the economy.
Women In Successful Housing (WISH)
The Utah Department of Corrections, in partnership with the Division of Housing and Community Development, launched an experiment in 2008 to help female parolees move from a halfway house to independence.
The Homeless Assistance Rental Program (HARP)in Salt Lake County provides case management, supportive services, and housing for homeless individuals exiting the county jail and residential treatment programs. Housing is provided in scattered site locations. Clients are allowed to choose where they live. Nearly 80% of the individuals in HARP have remained in housing over a two year period. The national average: 85% remained housed over 12 months.
Not all Utah cities and towns have large populations of chronically homeless. In rural Utah, family homelessness is a more pressing problem. Such is the case in the Bear River region – encompassing Box Elder, Cache and Rich counties – where the Local Homeless Coordinating Committee is looking upstream at preventing homelessness by helping abused women and children.
A leading cause of homelessness in the Bear River region is domestic violence. Nationally, 46 percent of homeless women report having stayed in an abusive relationship because they had nowhere else to go. Still, others escape only to return to an abusive relationship because they can’t find or afford to keep housing.
In 2006, Bear River housing officials undertook an experiment aimed at helping women succeed once they exit the local domestic violence shelter. The idea is to get women into affordable apartments as quickly as possible, and blanket them with supports, including regular therapy, child care, jobs counseling and more.
Nine women and 38 children participated, and the results exceeded expectations. The average client spends only 4.6 months on the program before finding employment and the means to pay their rent.