Did Salt Lake City Really Solve Their Issue With Homelessness?


While Salt Lake City may not have actually given all of their homeless population homes, what they’ve done certainly says a lot about homelessness.

In 2015, a segment on “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” touted Salt Lake City, Utah’s approach to their population suffering from homelessness as a miracle cure. The segment, at the hands of reporter Hasan Minhaj, painted a beautiful and simple picture: all Salt Lake City had done to rid themselves of homelessness was to give the homeless homes. It’s a novel idea and the numbers seemed to back up their report, leading to the story being picked up by The Washington Post, NBC News, and L.A. Times. The immense success left some wondering: if it was such an effective policy change, why didn’t more cities adopt it? Beyond that, did Salt Lake City really solve their chronic homelessness issue?

Chronic Homelessness Vs. Non-Chronic Homelessness

Part of the issue here is definitions. According to Deseret News, Gordon Walker, director of Utah’s division of Community and Housing, reported in 2015 that they had cut the state’s chronic homeless numbers by 91% over the previous decade. Chronically homeless people are a small subset of the overall population, and to qualify as a “chronically homeless person,” you must first meet a few criteria. This includes having been homeless for an entire year or having been homeless for at least four periods over the past three years which altogether totals 365 days, and also having been diagnosed with a disability, including serious mental illness or severe drug addiction. While Salt Lake City may have drastically reduced its population of chronically homeless people, it still saw an overall increase in numbers of total homeless population.

Difficulties In Numbers

Remember that 91% cut in chronic homelessness? Well, that’s a hard figure to substantiate. Consider the difficulties in doing comprehensive homeless censuses. It’s hard to get a good read for who is chronically homeless and who isn’t, just as it’s difficult to get all homeless people to participate. All they can do is count up everyone on they see on the streets and everyone in shelters. Censuses are already unreliable data, but once you factor in the fact that these people don’t have permanent addresses or easy contact info, you realize just how difficult it is to get your fingers around.

What’s The Takeaway?

This all may sound somewhat disappointing, but all hope isn’t loss. Salt Lake’s program did effectively house 900 people who fit the definition of chronically homeless. That’s no small task. What these results do signify is that housing the homeless is an effective measure in combatting homelessness, it just needs to be done on a wider scale. The good news? Salt Lake City plans to continue their efforts, targeting not just the chronic homeless, but the “persistently homeless,” or those who spent at least 90 but less than 265 days homeless in the past year.

Talk to My Brother’s Keeper About Helping in Baltimore

To learn more about our youth programs, Attendance Affirmation Project, how to help, or to find out more about our services including hot meal programs, employment assistance, health services and identifying possible emergency shelter, call MBK today at 410-644-3194. You can also follow our official MBK page on Google+, Pinterest, Twitter, and Facebook, to stay up to date on our center’s progress and upcoming events in the community.

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