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Utah cuts costs and homelessness rates by giving people homes

Utah adopted a pretty novel concept to end chronic homelessness this year: They gave homeless people homes. It’s a solution that might sound too simple, but it’s working. The program, called “Housing First,” has origins in New York. Utah started its own pilot of the program in 2005 with 17 people. The state took them off the street and put them into housing for 22 months. After the state saw all 17 people remained housed and stable during that time, the project was expanded. To date, the rate of chronic homelessness in Utah has dropped 72 percent since the program’s inception.

Some of the people are housed in regular apartments with landlords and others are placed in renovated buildings, like old hotels, that have been redesigned as permanent housing. Though the individuals do not have regular rent, the housing is still not entirely free: A person must pay 30 percent of his or her income each month if he or she has a job, or $50 per month if the person is unemployed.

But perhaps most surprising is the fact that the entire system is much cheaper than leaving homeless people on the streets. Chronically homeless individuals can cost a community $20,000-$40,000 a year on the street with emergency services, jail time, and police time. When they are housed, the cost is $8,000-$9,000 per person, including case management.

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