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S.L. County launching 2 programs serving at-risk homeless, repeat offenders

FILE: Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams presents his 2017 budget proposal to the County Council in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2016.
FILE: Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams presents his 2017 budget proposal to the County Council in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2016.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — After two years of preparation, Salt Lake County is ready to launch two data-driven and results-based programs addressing persistent homelessness and treatment for men at risk of repeated trips to jail.

Calling the plan a "new frontier" for delivering essential services while safeguarding taxpayer interests, Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams said $11.5 million will go toward two projects kicking off early next year with the goal of eventually serving an estimated 550 people.

The launch comes just days after Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski announced the locations of four new homeless shelters to be established around the city, and the eventual closure of the Road Home facility, operated by one of the two nonprofit organizations partnering in the county program.

Under the "pay for success" model, the $11.5 million is coming from private lenders and donors, to be paid back by the county only if a rigorous independent evaluation shows the projects are effective. That way, McAdams said, taxpayers are supporting only the programs that work.

"It puts people, our nonprofit providers and our philanthropic funders, in the place where they can really work and they're freed up to innovate and figure out how to make these programs work in real time," McAdams said. "The taxpayers are protected, but at the end of the day, if in the end the taxpayers receive the result that we've agreed to pay for, then we're happy to pay."

In addition to the financial toll of putting tax money into initiatives that don't work, McAdams noted there is a human cost of putting someone in need through an ineffective program when a better option could have been provided.

In January, the Road Home will begin work on its Homes Not Jail project, which will provide a place to live for those who have been homeless for 90 to 364 days in hopes of keeping them from becoming homeless for much longer. The program is expected to serve 315 people.

Matt Minkovitch, the Road Home's executive director, said there are men and women on Salt Lake's streets and in shelters currently "thirsting to get out of this desperate situation."

"We'll do our part to help people to succeed and to show there is a better way than shelter, there is a better way than having so many people on our streets, and it starts with caring about people and helping people to succeed in housing," Minkovitch said. "This has all of the elements of that and I'm very confident about what the future will bring."

Later in 2017, First Steps House will receive funds for its "REACH" initiative, which aims to provide comprehensive intervention, support and treatment for an estimated 225 men who have been incarcerated and are becoming repeat offenders. The acronym REACH stands for recovery, engagement, assessment, career and housing.

Shawn McMillen, executive director at First Step House, said support for REACH will allow the addiction recovery program to offer help on several fronts at once.

"We've never had the opportunity in a single funding stream to bring all of the pieces together in one program," McMillen said. "This is a comprehensive program that will address criminogenic factors that contribute to recidivism as well as all of the health problems and living problems that contribute to individuals' lives not working."

McAdams called the issues of homelessness and male repeat offenders a top priority for his office that, without a solution, will continue to be a burden on taxpayers.

"We're focusing on two long-running county challenges," McAdams said. "This is a win-win, where we hope to better utilize tax dollars to serve people in need to help them become stable and self-reliant."

Jim Sorenson, one of the supporters paying into the programs, voiced his confidence Monday that the "pay for success" model will direct needed funds to high-quality and proven initiatives. The Sorenson Impact Center has been named the project manager behind the effort.

"There is real innovation in the way that these are financed," Sorenson said. "If we're paid back, then it's a successful program and the county has actually saved more money than what they've paid back, because paying for an ongoing cost is much higher than fixing the problem in the first place."

Support for the "pay for success" programs has come from the Gail and Larry H. Miller Foundation, the Ray & Tye Noorda Foundation, the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Foundation, Living Cities, Synchrony Bank, Zions Bank, Northern Trust, QBE Insurance Group Limited, Ally Bank and the Reinvestment Fund.