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Mayors of Salt Lake County ready to fund help for the homeless

SALT LAKE CITY -- Homeless services would receive a financial boost from all communities in Salt Lake County under a proposal before the county's Council of Governments.

Acknowledging that providing services for the homeless is a shared responsibility, each city and the unincorporated county would appropriate the equivalent of 35 cents per capita to help pay for services, under the proposed agreement.

According to 2012 Census estimates, more than 1 million people live in Salt Lake County. The initiative would produce roughly $375,000 in new funding.

The Council of Governments, made up of the elected mayors of each city in the county as well as Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams, addressed the issue at a meeting Thursday afternoon.

Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker said the new funding stream would not supplant homeless service funding presently provided by the county or certain cities. But it acknowledges that funding services for the homeless is a countywide responsibility.

Earlier in the day, many elected officials had attended a fund-raising breakfast hosted by The Road Home, a Salt Lake nonprofit organization that shelters and provides intensive case management to homeless individuals and families.

The breakfast program featured the story of a formerly homeless man named Jim, who had recently moved into permanent supportive housing. Jim was from West Jordan, Becker noted.

Michelle Flynn, associate executive director of programs for The Road Home, said the man had received services from Volunteers of America and Fourth Street Clinic for several years. Over time, service providers developed a relationship of trust with "Jim" to the point he agreed to move into permanent supportive housing.

Flynn said The Road Home's clients come from throughout Salt Lake County and the region. The proposal before the Council of Governments not only acknowledges clients' needs but the communities' willingness to help fund services.

"Collectively, it will be a significant amount of money and they'll all have a stake in it," she said.

While the cities and county need to approve the interlocal agreement, some mayors said their cities had included the appropriation in their proposed budgets.

"Where do I send the check?" said Riverton Mayor Bill Applegarth.

The interlocal agreement also enables all communities to contribute in an equitable manner, Flynn said. "It gives them some ownership."

The Council of Governments would form a subcommittee to review funding requests for the funds, Becker said. The council would ultimately decide how the money would be appropriated.

Kerry Steadman, community services manager for Salt Lake County, said the mayors had been discussing the issue for three or four months.

"Fortunately, we got a great response to this," he said.

Earlier this week, the state released findings of the latest Point-In-Time Count, which indicated numbers of chronically homeless people in Utah had fallen for the seventh consecutive year, which officials attribute to homeless service providers' emphasis on rapid rehousing and increased use of permanent supportive housing.

Overall homelessness declined by 7 percent from January 2012 to January 2013. Officials said the decrease was partially due to the state's recovery from the economic downturn.

"The continued successes in 2012 are the result of focusing on smart, efficient solutions to homelessness," said Gordon Walker, director of the housing and community development division of the State Department of Workforce Services.

Marjorie Cortez is a veteran journalist who covers immigration, poverty and other human services issues for the Deseret News and KSL. She has reported for news organizations in Colorado and Utah since 1983, the last 24 years at the Deseret News.