I’ve been a longtime supporter of The Road Home. This morning was the annual one-by-one breakfast in support of the organization (see here for my comments at the breakfast two years ago). For the first time in years, I didn’t attend the breakfast. I also recently went off the board. However, I remain an avid supporter of the organization.
Currently, there’s a large (and long) political process ongoing in Salt Lake County to deal with homelessness more effectively. I applaud these efforts. I’m often asked how I feel about it, and thought I’d give a few thoughts:
First, demand for emergency shelter continues to increase:
I’ve shared this chart before, but the yellow line shows the 10 year increase for emergency shelter at The Road Home. This increase has been across all populations (single men, single women, and families). The Road Home was largely able to deal with this demand in the face of static capacity by getting people into supported housing units as quickly as possible. The grey line in the chart shows the relative increase in demand for supported housing nights over the same time frame.
Second, the main Road Home shelter has capacity for approximately 1100-1200 people. The politicians are trying to replace this building with three separate buildings that I believe have a combined capacity of approximately 750-800 people. That means the politicians believe they can reduce homelessness by at least 27% over the next two years before Shelter The Homeless Inc (the nonprofit owner of the main shelter building) is mandated by state law to close the facility. I wish them complete success. I’m NOT an anti-government libertarian (far from it), but if these “programs” fail, what’s the alternative? More specifically, is our Utah electorate prepared for stories about homeless deaths due to exposure?
Third, I’m extremely tired of the local media portrayal that no city has stepped up to be part of the solution. The site selection committee has identified three sites where the new homeless resource centers are going to go, and local politicians fought them every step of the way. However, while we were building The Road Home’s facility in Midvale that provides emergency shelter to families (see here), I always said that money was the easy part and site selection was the hard part. Fortunately for us, Midvale City stepped up! They worked with us. They did their part – two or three years ago! After it was completed they arranged with the state for the facility to be open all year. I hope people don’t forget the graciousness of Midvale City in all of this.
Finally, evidently, the next fight is going to be about what populations go to which of the three sites. I’m nervous when I see everyone essentially saying that if they must have a site in their community they hope it’s for children. Umm, most of the children that are homeless are already staying in Midvale – very few of the children in emergency shelter are currently downtown. If the argument is that we need another family center – terrific! I’m all for it! However, let’s recognize that makes the capacity issues (see #2 above) significantly worse. If the idea is to move families from Midvale to a different facility I would respond with: Ok, then what? How is that helping the capacity and concentration issues downtown? Or are you going to put a different population in Midvale? I’m not a resident of Midvale, but I believe it would be severely unfair (see #3 above) to use that facility for a different part of the homeless population.
There aren’t any easy answers to any of this – I certainly don’t have any.
However, I’m afraid the politicians are doing what politicians do best.