By Miranda Collette
SALT LAKE CITY – In Utah an estimated 14,000 are homeless and according to a recent report on the expense of homelessness they cost $2.7 million a year in hospital bills in just in Salt Lake City alone.
Health care and a long waiting list for federal housing funds, are just two reasons local homeless advocates are concerned.
Jennifer Hyvonen, the spokeswoman for Salt Lake’s Fourth Street Clinic, said, “It’s very, very, difficult to control disease and mange systems while you are walking around all day. ‘Homelessness Hurts, Healthcare Helps.’” This is the motto of the fourth street clinic, which believes providing homes for the homeless could solve not only a lot of problems but save a lot of money.
Becky Kanis is the director of the 100,000 Homes campaign, which is part of a national movement of more than 175 communities across the country which are working together to find permanent homes for 100,000 chronic and medically vulnerable homeless Americans by July 2014. In Salt Lake City alone, this program helps house 2.5 percent of the chronically homeless each month.
Programs like the 100,000 Homes campaign, and many others, are working to solve this issue every day and are making a difference, Hyvonen said.
“Chronic homelessness [in Salt Lake] has been reduced by 7 percent … [the program] reduced crime, public gatherings, and gives people a place to go where they can be warm and protected,” Hyvonen said. With approximately 80,188 people housed nationally so far the 100,000 homes campaign is not far from its July 2014 goal.
The Section 8 housing Choice Voucher is a nationwide program to help “very low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled to afford decent, safe and sanitary housing in the private market.” However, in Utah the waiting list for housing has gotten out of control, forcing the Housing Authority of Salt Lake to close the list on Feb. 5 for the first time.
This decision to close this voucher program will mean much of the funding for different housing projects will be eliminated. Funding for the Fourth Street clinic was $7.1 million in 2012, 31 percent of which came from the federal government. According to the Hyvonen, losing this voucher will take a big chunk out of that budget.
For the 12,000 or so people currently on that waiting list, the Housing Authority confirmed that they would not just get dropped. Instead, no more people will be added until the waiting period is reduced to only two years. At an estimated seven-year wait, the list will remain closed until the wait time is lowered.
Evelyn, a homeless women who would not give her last name, has been on and off the streets for about two years.
“I’m nervous for the fact that they’ve tried [housing programs] before and it fell through and they didn’t do it… I don’t count my chickens anymore,” she said.