Utah is receiving national attention for efforts in reducing the population of the chronically homeless, which reflects well on our reputation as a place where charity and compassion are common values. Many services aiding the poor are dependent on donations from individuals and families, which is why a unique program available during the tax filing season is so valuable.
Since 1989, Utah has maintained a Homeless Trust Fund, which raises money through contributions made by checking a box on state income tax forms. Most of the contributions are small — only one or two dollars. But they add up to a significant sum that is divvied up every year among various programs that serve the homeless.
The program is unique. There are similar trust funds in several states that raise money for affordable housing. But the Utah program also helps fund programs that aid in fighting addiction, provide health care services and offer nutritional support. “This is a great cause,” Gov. Gary Herbert told The Deseret News. “And anybody can give two bucks.”
The fund is named after longtime homeless advocate Pamela Atkinson, who recently joined the governor for a tour of a facility that provides aid to the homeless. They encouraged use of the trust fund, which has raised money in amounts that have varied widely. In 1990, the fund generated $300,000. Last year, it raised about $48,000. The lower number could be the result of any number of factors. The fund now competes with other “check-off” contribution options on tax forms. There may also be the perception that since progress has been made in fighting homelessness, the need is less than it has been in previous years.
We disagree. The need will be constant, as, at any given time, a certain number of people will fall into a state of disenfranchisement. Our obligation as their neighbors is to help make sure the condition does not lapse into some permanence.
Utah has made strides in curbing homelessness with programs like Salt Lake City’s “Housing First” initiative, credited with bringing down the number of people homeless for more than a year by a significant percentage. It’s important now to maintain pressure on the problem by supporting services that specialize in early intervention. Those programs often operate on shoestring budgets and rely on volunteer support and citizen contributions.
The Pamela Atkinson Homeless Trust Fund is a worthy instrument to facilitate the goodwill of the many thousands of Utahns who cherish the opportunity to help care for those less fortunate.