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Utah’s unique approach to homelessness works

Utah is fighting homelessness and winning
Utah is fighting homelessness and winning
Image courtesy of Mantas Ruzveltas / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In a country as affluent as the United States, you might not think homelessness is as much of a problem as it seems to be. Actually, it’s much worse. According to Nation of Change on Jan. 20, Utah is the only state that has a plan that works.

Before we look at Utah, though, let’s look at some things that aren't working.

~Hawaiian state representative Tom Bower (D) was walking the streets of his Waikiki district smashing homeless people’s shopping carts with a sledgehammer and rousing the homeless he found in public places. He has since put up his sledgehammer.

~Columbia, S.C. passed an ordinance giving the homeless two choices: relocate or get arrested. It was later rescinded after a backlash of public opinion.

~Tampa, Fla., the city with the most homeless people for the size of the town, passed an ordinance allowing police officers to arrest homeless people sleeping in public or “storing personal property in public.” Then the city prohibited panhandling in the downtown area.

~Philadelphia, Pa. banned feeding homeless people in city parks. The religious groups doing the feeding objected and stated they will not obey.

~Raleigh, N.C. actually asked religious groups to stop feeding the homeless in a downtown park on weekends. The religious groups stated they will not obey and risk arrest.

So what is Utah doing that’s working? Something you might not think of because it’s too simple. Utah has reduced homelessness 78 percent in the last eight years by giving people homes. Yes, you read that correctly. The state of Utah gives homes to homeless people. The state aims to end homelessness by 2015.

Why is Utah giving away homes? Because they've found it to be economically advantageous, that’s why. They figured out that providing an apartment and caseworker to homeless people was almost $6,000 per year cheaper than what they were paying in ER visits and jail stays for the homeless.

It’s called the Utah Housing Works Program. It provides each participant with a no-strings-attached apartment and a caseworker to help the person get back on his or her feet. Even if they don’t succeed, they can stay in the apartment.

Utah Housing Works is so successful that other states are looking at copying it. It should be noted that, politically, Utah is a Republican state but here they are giving away apartments and reducing homelessness. This just proves that successful solutions can be found when people are willing to work together to get things done.

Note to the other 49 states: What are you waiting for?