HUD Homeless Initiative Garners Cool Reception at AOG Meeting
A presentation concerning a state plan to bring homelessness in Utah to an end in 10 years received a cool reception at the last Southeastern Utah Association of Governments meeting.
Utah has picked up the program initiated by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development.
But according to SEUAOG director Bill Howell, much of what the program wants to do amounts to an unfunded mandate.
"If HUD is so convinced of this program, then they should put their money where their mouth is," said Howell. "It brings into question whether they believe in their own project."
"And there is certainly no extra money in the AOG for people to run such a program," added the association of local governments director.
Lloyd Pendleton from the Utah Department of Community Development presented the plan at the association of governments meeting.
The presidential initiative has reportedly been accepted by all 50 states and in more than 170 cities at locations across the country.
The program is meant to coordinate the efforts of 20 federal departments and agencies that have been serving the homeless in the past.
Former Gov. Olene Walker accepted the plan last year for Utah. Walker had the state plan drafted and sent for review to Washington, D.C.
"The state's vision on this is that every person should have access to safe, decent, affordable housing with the needed resources and supports for self-sufficiency and well being," pointed out Pendleton.
The heart of the plan lies in a local coordinating committee, made up of officials who have interaction with homeless or potentially homeless people. The committee would prioritize the resources available for housing and services.
By compiling data and using the board, Pendleton said there is a good chance the state can be given significant sums of federal money to help resolve homelessness concerns.
Nationwide, homelessness is a major problem that is broken down into three categories.
The first category is temporary homelessness.
Statistics show that 80 percent of the affected people who become homeless fall into the temporary category and soon find a way to get a place to live.
The second category is episodic homelessness. The category accounts for about 10 percent of the homeless population. The category includes people who become homeless a number of times, but find housing after the episodes.
The final group is comprised of individuals who have chronic problems with housing. The category accounts for the final 10 percent of homeless people. The group includes individuals with disabling conditions who have experienced at least four episodes within three years or who have been homeless for at least 12 months.
According to Pendleton, the emphasis of the state's plan is based on the money spent on each of the groups in Utah.
For example, people in the chronic group use 50 percent of the available resources, a disproportionate amount considering they make up one-tenth of the total homeless population.
In Utah it is estimated that 590 people fall into the chronic category, while 360 are episodic and 3,790 are temporarily homeless on a daily basis.
"We have a shelter, the only one in the area," pointed out Carbon County Housing Authority Linda Varner. "We take in a lot of people who need help from San Juan, Emery and Grand. We already have ways to help these people."
Varner was backed up by a number of others at the meeting. They all asked why the area needed another plan when the homeless issue in the area is largely being taken care of already.
Varner also pointed out that the idea of forming a committee or board had already been done in the area.
"We have a board," said Varner. "We already have the people that are on the board that are in the plans committee."
Carbon County Commissioner Mike Milovich pointed out what he thought is really needed.
"We have a pretty good handle on what the needs are in this area," said Milovich. "All of this planning has been done. What we need is the money to fix the problems."
Pendleton pointed out again that the reason for the plan was to use it to request money from the federal government, something he felt Utah has fallen behind on.
"Some states have been at this for three years and Utah as of yet has made no requests," he said.
But some in the audience argued that the program would just provide more administration, rather than more aid to the people who need it.
"There are a lot of real needs," said Nancy Bentley, director of Active Re-Entry. "Accessibility is a good example. We have people being put in rest homes because there isn't a way to make their homes accessible to them. We need help, not more administration."
Some of the AOG staff said that since the plan called for the gathering of data, it would require manpower to compile it, and hence money to pay for that manpower.
"We're preventing a lot of homelessness now," said Barbara Dougherty, pointing out that community development block grants already provided money to support operations.. "I worry that money we are using for that might be used to fund this plan instead."
Howell brought the discussion to a halt by citing some of the ways money has been spent to help people in the area including paying for utilities, for medical assistance, in helping with rent payments and for food.
"I guess the question to the board is if they want to spend money to gather data or to evaluate further what should be done," he said.
There was a great deal more discussion about what is being done and what people really want. It was pointed out that reducing homelessness to nothing will actually be impossible because there are a number of the chronically homeless who like it that way.
"I met one homeless man," said Milovich. "He told me 'All of you are trying to get us into some shelter, but maybe we don't want that.'"
It was also pointed out that sometimes housing for low income people is turned away by the community as was the example in Grand County recently when the State Institutional Trust Land Administration wanted to build that type of housing and the community said they didn't want it in their area.
Other than Pendleton, the plan seemed to have little support in the form he presented it, except from Price Mayor Joe Piccolo.
"The way I see it we are looking at a piece of cut glass that could be a diamond," he said. "The money is there. If we sit on the sidelines and don't do something with this we will let it go by. And we will regret it."
Pendleton said after listening to many of the comments that he could see that the area was already doing much of what the plan required.
"I think we just need to get with you and see what would fit best for the area," he concluded.