A Smarter Way to End Homelessness

Honoring Our Heros National Police Week

Salt Lake City has a significant problem with order maintenance issues—public intoxication, disorderly conduct, etc.—in the city's Central Business District (CBD). These issues are most commonly attributed to the homeless and other marginalized populations.

The largest city in Utah and a business hub, Salt Lake City's population of approximately 186,400 almost doubles during business hours. Although a recent survey conducted by the Utah Division of Housing and Community Development shows the number of people classified as “chronically homeless” has decreased, Salt Lake City continues to struggle with the problems associated with homelessness.

The local poverty rate is 17.5 percent (U.S. Census Bureau, 2010). Annually, there are approximately 10,547 sheltered homeless and 11,187 unsheltered homeless in Salt Lake County. Of these, 1,410 are families with children.

When Salt Lake City's Homeless Outreach Street Team (HOST) was formed to bring together a variety of shareholders to reduce public order issues and streamline efforts among social service providers, a new era of collaboration was born.

Salt Lake City Police Department (SLCPD) Sergeant Michelle Ross has spent 20 years working on public safety issues related to marginalized populations. While attending a Problem Oriented Policing Conference, Ross learned of an effort in Colorado where they were using donation meters to increase public awareness for shelter services. The program encouraged donations to a social service fund instead of giving directly to panhandlers on the street. The fund then supports social services—medical services, housing, mental health services, substance abuse services, food, etc.—needed for the homeless and marginalized populations.

Under Ross' recommendation, Salt Lake City embarked on a similar program as part of the HOST program. Red HOST meters began appearing on the streets of Salt Lake City in April 2011.

photo of female officer consoling a womanHOST, composed of police and outreach workers, makes contact with homeless and other struggling individuals to identify their needs and help them access community services. This innovative project does more than the past community policing responses, which focused primarily on responding to panhandling complaints, the city's open air drug market, and mental health and/or substance abuse issues. Instead of focusing on one specific illegal or public order issue, HOST focuses on a population that is marginalized—to address and prevent the resulting behavior of not having basic needs met, e.g., substance abuse, drug distribution, and panhandling.

In September 2012, HOST was awarded a COPS Office award to further its mission. The funds are being used to educate the public about smarter ways to support efforts to end homelessness.

Stay tuned for more details on the outcome of the HOST project!

Sgt. Michelle Ross
Salt Lake City Police Department

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