U researchers craft statewide plan to address homelessness

University of Utah researchers have authored Utah’s first statewide plan to address homelessness. The plan’s title reveals its sweeping ambition: “To make homelessness in all of Utah rare, brief and non-recurring.”

“It’s sort of the guide,” says Jesus Valero, assistant professor of political science and one of the plan’s authors. “The layout of what the issues are. What some of the ideas for addressing those issues are. A timetable of things that need to get done, benchmarks and measurements of progress that need to take place in order to achieve our goals.”

Finding the experts

The issue of homelessness in Utah is not confined to Salt Lake City. It’s a statewide issue, touching urban and rural communities alike. Recognizing that, the Utah Legislature tasked the State Homeless Coordinating Committee with developing a statewide strategy. That committee, in turn, came to the experts at the University of Utah.

Valero and Lina Svedin, also of the department of political science, research homelessness from a public administration and public policy perspective. “My research has focused on the role of collaboration and the role of nonprofit organizations in helping to make an impact across communities to reduce the incidence of homelessness,” Valero says. He and Svedin have both received grants from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to study the health needs of vulnerable populations, including those experiencing homelessness.

They worked with the Utah Department of Workforce Services Division of Housing and Community Development, connected to the State Homeless Coordinating Committee, in putting together a proposal by which to complete a strategic plan for the Committee’s review. “We would ultimately help the State Homeless Coordinating Committee with leading and drafting a statewide plan for their review and adoption,” Valero says.

Local innovation and statewide coordination

Valero and Svedin, along with 10 graduate research assistants, began by traveling all around Utah and meeting with community leaders, stakeholders and residents affected by homelessness. Focus groups helped Valero and Svedin understand how the issue was playing out across the state.

“We heard loud and clear that homelessness across Utah communities varies, but there is no one way to eradicate it, reduce it or make homelessness rare, brief and non-recurring,” Valero says. “Every community is different.”

“There’s some really cool things happening in various parts of our state,” he adds. “And often these cool and innovative ideas are not necessarily being shared or connected to other communities across the state simply because of geographic distance.”

The 54-page plan, arising from those meetings and from the authors’ expertise, sets forth shared goals, assesses the state’s progress and identifies gaps in how Utah communities are able to meet needs. The goals revolve around the “rare, brief and non-recurring” theme, aiming to reduce the number of people becoming homeless, the duration of homelessness and the rate of returning to homelessness after securing housing. The goal for 2020, according to the plan, is for a 10% improvement in most metrics over conditions in 2019.

To achieve these goals, the plan sets out an Utah Homeless Network composed of local homeless coordinating committees that cover different regions of the state. Each committee is responsible for developing a vision to reduce homelessness in their region and to allocate resources, as well as monitoring progress toward achieving both state and local goals.

“The plan really emphasizes local control, local empowerment, local needs assessments and allowing communities to identify their own priorities,” Valero says. “This plan calls for communities to connect with the state to identify those funding supports to address those needs.”

The local committees will then meet together to coordinate and share ideas at gatherings such as the Homeless Summit, a meeting held in October 2019 where the U research team presented their plan. Future meetings, Valero says, should travel around the state to connect communities.

More work ahead

The U researchers’ plan has now been adopted, published and distributed around Utah, with timelines and priorities for implementation. The team recommends re-evaluation of the plan after a year and, Valero says, stands ready to assist.

“The reality is that homelessness exists in other parts of Utah,” he says, “and we need to shift our attention to better understand how our communities are connected. Because what’s happening in Salt Lake is affecting other parts of Utah. It’s affecting Utah County. It’s affecting Weber County. It’s affecting rural parts of Utah.”

Find the plan here.

The research team included graduate research assistants from the following programs:

Master of Public Administration
Rachel Black, Lynda Horne, Jeffrey Johnson, Nancy Proctor, Miles Southworth

Master of Public Policy
Andrea Brandley, Daniel Chapman, Kelbe Goupil

PhD in Political Science
Georgina Griffith, Holly Richardson