A real plan to help the homeless rises in Utah (Deseret News)

By Marjorie Cortez

SALT LAKE CITY — In a homeless shelter 40 miles north of here, a single dad Duane Feragen and his 11-year-old son Isaac are planning their next steps.

Until recently, they split rent with roommates. When their companions didn't keep up their share of the rent, they all lost their housing.

The Feragens spent a couple of nights with friends and at budget hotel but left once they discovered it was infested with bedbugs. At Isaac's suggestion, they turned to the Lantern House in Ogden, which provides emergency services to people experiencing homelessness.

"This place saved me. I'd all but given up," said Feragen, who receives a disability income after undergoing multiple spine surgeries resulting from a workplace injury. As he and his son work with a case worker to get back into housing, Lantern House is providing them shelter, food and hope for a more stable future, he said.

Lantern House, which opened in August 2015, is among a new generation of resource centers that serve homeless families, single men and single women.

It has many of the characteristics Salt Lake County officials say will be the model of future services for people experiencing homelessness in the metropolitan core, as envisioned by the county's Collective Impact on Homelessness Steering Committee.

Monday the public is invited to comment on what Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams calls his administration's Homeless Services System Reform Plan. The public workshop will be held from 6:30 - 8:30 p.m. at Clark Planetarium, 110 S. 400 West.

The county is making the recommendations of the "what and how" of homeless services, he said.

"Then we'll pass the baton to the city for relevant pieces of it to determine the 'where,' where these facilities will be located," McAdams said. Both groups have been working for more than a year studying homelessness and developing recommendations.

The city's Homeless Services Site Evaluation Commission's work is ongoing but expected to be completed by fall.

The goal of the county's initiative is "to strategically reduce the demand for emergency shelter across our region and to do it through new programming funded by Salt Lake County that will start this fall and allow us to begin work on new facilities that go beyond emergency shelter. We know emergency shelter is not the solution. It’s a necessary component of the system but it is not the solution to homelessness," McAdams said.

In the future, emergency shelters will be smaller, at scattered sites and many will have programming specific to the populations they serve, McAdams said.

Lantern House, for example, was built to serve 300 people. On a peak night during the worst of winter, Salt Lake's Road Home takes in some 1,200 people between its two facilities, the majority served at its downtown facility with overflow spilling over into St. Vincent de Paul Dining Hall across the street.

"We built it for 300. That's because we felt that's the best size to manage," said Lantern House's executive director Jennifer Cantor.

"You get much bigger than that and it's too hard to manage."

New approaches

Future emergency shelters will no longer be the sole entry point to services, particularly housing, according to the proposal.

Work will be done in multiple places to identify and help families at risk of becoming homeless, said Shaleane Gee, director of special projects and partnerships for Salt Lake County, who has led the process. That might be a school or another government agency or nonprofit organization that interacts with a family.

Health care providers could assess a family's housing status after a baby's birth, Gee said. "Are they housed? Or where can we refer them?," she said.

To further cull the numbers of adult men and women who use the Road Home's main shelter, the county plans to launch an initiative to address a segment of the homeless that is "persistently homeless" and also have criminal histories.

The "persistently homeless" population are individuals who have been homeless less than a year but more than 90 days, McAdams said.

"About 30 percent of our homeless population or about 250 to 300 people per day are in jail so they're not chronically homeless because they left the homeless system. Then they come back at a later time and the system recognizes them as a new homeless person. So we believe we can do a better job of reducing trips through the revolving doors of jail and the homeless shelter and help people to become stabilized," McAdams said.

The Homes Not Jail initiative will target up to 315 people. The goal is to house them in rental units scattered across the valley using rapid rehousing vouchers and provide intensive case management — one case manager for every 15 clients.

The University of Utah's Sorenson Impact Center will manage the program, while the Road Home will provide the services, McAdams said. It will be subject to a first-in-the-nation randomized control trial by University of Utah researchers, he said.

The project, another of the McAdams administration's Pay for Success initiatives, will be backed by more than $11 million in private funding. County funds, will reimburse the private funders "if and when" the initiative achieves its goals over a six-year period. The program will be rigorously tracked and evaluated each quarter.

One of the overarching goals is to free up more emergency shelter beds making them available "for true emergency shelter, rather than as a defacto homeless facility," county documents state.

Help Rio Grande

Plans also call for an intervention in the Rio Grande neighborhood to address a "criminogenic" element that tends to gravitate to the area. This, too, is a Pay for Success initiative that would begin this fall.

"We recognize there are immediate public safety needs in the Rio Grande area. We are proposing a joint intervention in the Rio Grande area that would be a partnership between Salt Lake County and Salt Lake City focused on behavioral health and criminal justice," McAdams said.

The REACH program (Recovery, Engagement, Assessment, Career and Housing) would focus on high-risk offenders in the criminal justice system with the goal of reducing recidivism and incarceration rates.

The program would be limited to formerly incarcerated people who have completed jails sentences, are being supervised by Adult Probation and Parole and have significant addiction issues and may also have mental health conditions. As a group they have difficulty finding or maintaining employment, have neglected physical health and are likely to be re-arrested.

Program goals include engagement in treatment, reductions in arrests and incarceration and employment gains.

New facilities

The mayor's recommendations also include development of two facilities that provide emergency services and housing: one for single adult men and a second serving men, women and couples with separate spaces for each. Each would have 250 beds, overflow space and they will be low barrier, which means few expectations are placed on people who seek help. They are not required to enroll in a program to have a roof over their heads, receive a meal or other emergency service.

The two facilities would be located in Salt Lake City and supported by state funding.

As demand for the Road Home's emergency shelter beds is reduced, McAdams said the existing facility could be "phased out in approximately three years as these new facilities come on line and new programming comes on line the needs in that current shelter would be reduced to the point we can phase that facility out."

Another new facility, to be established elsewhere in Salt Lake County, would include affordable, transitional, supportive and market-rate housing, 100 units for families and 50 for women.

The community resource center would located near a school and other services such as a grocery store, access to health care services and employment opportunities would be in close vicinity.

Meanwhile, Road Home would continue to operate its new Midvale Center, a 300-bed facility that can serve about 125 families. The Utah Legislature passed legislation earlier this year permitting emergency services facility to operate yearround. The facility will receive county and state funding, although as a nonprofit organization, it will still require philanthropic and private sector support.

To complement the realigned sheltering system, two facilities to provide housing, detoxification and rehabilitation services are proposed. One 70-bed facility would serve single women and women with children. The other would be a 35-bed center for men offering detoxification, rehabilitation and behavioral health case management services.

Volunteers of America - Utah operated a detox/rehabilitation center for women and women with children in Murray for about 15 years but closed it two years ago after government grants were cut to the extent "we couldn’t sustain two separate detox centers. So we consolidated our services into the larger facility in downtown Salt Lake, where we still serve women," said Kathy Bray, president and CEO of the nonprofit organization.

The building is now leased to a provider of behavioral health services.

"I think sometimes when there is a building actually built that has served in that capacity before, it seems more reasonable that we would to go back to that but there’s no specific plan for that yet. We’re open to that discussion," Bray said.

Since the building is already zoned for the use, it could be more readily used for that purpose but the proposal as not yet moved beyond the discussion stage, Bray said.

"It would be a faster-tracked project" but much depends on the business plan and future funding streams, she said.

Realignment of the system of homeless services will also include a new coordinated entry and assessment for individuals accessing help across the system. While different agencies conduct those assessments now, they are not comprehensive and coordinated, Gee said.

The county will soon issue a request for proposals to develop the new system, which McAdams said should benefit clients and service providers. "We believe if we can have some level of system wide needs assessment and eligibility assessment we can tap to resources we're not currently accessing," he said.

Size matters

McAdams said smaller, scattered site facilities enable providers to focus on some of the individual root causes or homelessness "rather than one-size-fits-all."

Bray said smaller facilities enhance safety for clients and staff and create programming that better meets needs of specific populations and individual needs.

VOA - Utah's new Youth Resource Center for homeless teens in Salt Lake City has been open for two months. This is the first time the nonprofit organization has provided emergency shelter to youths age 15-22 (state law had to be changed to allow it) service providers are observing the benefit of offering comprehensive services.

"One of the profound things we’re seeing is sleep deprivation is significant in these youth. Once they get a few nights of sleep linked together in a place where they feel safe, they are much more able to focus on what’s next," Bray said.

Cantor said capping the shelter size at 300 enables the staff to get to know clients and their individual needs and readily detect people who attempt to intermingle with Lantern House clients.

Although the resource center provides a lunch to community members who need a meal, people not registered as shelter clients are asked to leave the property as soon as they finish their meals.

Lantern House likewise has high behavioral expectations of clients who live in its dorms and receive case management.

"It’s tough love, which is kind of what we call it, and it’s hard. They might be asked to leave three or four times. If they’re really ready to make that step, we’re going to help them make it," Cantor said.

Those who can't comply or don't want to comply with the rules can receive basic survival services, such as food, shelter and access restroom and shower facilities in Lantern House's overflow area "and not require anything from them. Then they start to trust us and then they start to see we’re really trying to help them and there’s no conspiracy," Cantor said.

What's ahead

Following the public workshop Monday to be facilitated by the architectural firm Architectural Nexus, which will include design concept of future facilities, the proposal goes before the Collective Impact Steering Committee on Wednesday.

The reimagined system of homeless services will also be reviewed by the State Homeless Coordinating Committee.

It also will be presented to leaders of the Utah Legislature, which earlier this year, appropriated $9.25 million in state and federal funds for the Housing and Homeless Reform Initiative, the first installment of a proposed $27 million, three-year funding plan.

Deeply affordable housing is both a strategy to prevent people from becoming homeless and provides a place for people to live once they leave transitional and supportive housing.

Toward that end, the McAdams administration envisions an initiative similar to the effort that substantially reduced rates of chronic homelessness in Utah over 10 years. The "chronically homeless" are a small population but they are highly expensive to serve.

The federal definition of chronic homelessness includes people who have experienced homelessness longer than one year or four episodes of homelessness in three years, and they have a disabling condition.

"Similar to how our state came together around the plan to end chronic homelessness, we’re proposing an initiative, what I’m calling the Family Home Initiative, a 10-year plan to end child homelessness, through prevention and efforts focused on family stability and self reliance," McAdams said.

Related to that would be a metro-wide affordable housing plan, also a 10-year effort, he said.

"We know that is really one of best things we can do is help people to not enter the homeless services system to begin with. That’s got to be part of our regional planning," he said.

McAdams said Utahns in general, but residents of Salt Lake County in particular, are part of a "compassionate community that recognizes the importance of providing food and shelter for our residents in crisis.

"But I want more from the system. I want a system where food and shelter is a temporary assistance as we help individuals move to a place of greater stability and greater self-reliance and that’s a difference system."

Email: marjorie@deseretnews.com