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Salt Lake City provides $112K to launch program to house individuals with mental illness

SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake City officials have given $112,000 to help 30 people with severe mental illness find housing.

The money, which comes from the Funding Our Future sales tax increase, was presented to Volunteers of America on Monday.

"The city is stepping forward to provide some specific funding to eliminate barriers to housing for a specific population — people with mental illness," said Kathy Bray, president of Volunteers of America-Utah.

She said the funding will be used in its Assertive Community Treatment program, a treatment center for people with severe mental illness. The funds help with application fees, utility bills, moving costs and sometimes rent, depending on the individual's needs.

Bray said the Assertive Community Treatment team has 85 clients and this funding will help 30 of them find housing by eliminating financial barriers. She said the organization helps people find housing after they come out of intensive programs at a hospital or have a problem with an apartment.

“The new ACT Housing Program will help fill a gap in needs we are currently experiencing in our city,” said Mayor Jackie Biskupski in a prepared statement. “The flexibility of city funding allows us to partner with organizations like VOA to maximize the value of taxpayer dollars.”

Lawrence Mullin, a case manager and peer support specialist on the Assertive Community Treatment team, said their clients need a place for medication and a place to be safe at night.

He said people sometimes need to choose between paying an application fee or having food. He said the process is stressful to anyone finding a place to live, but is even more difficult when the stress is added to a severe mental illness. He said he has worked with people who wanted to give up and go back to living on the streets.

"You try to de-escalate it and work with them and cheer them up and get them to believe that this is going to work out. It’s going to be OK,” Mullin said.

He said if they can get the clients housed, Assertive Community Treatment is more able to get them the care they need.

Tony Milner, with the Salt Lake City Housing and Neighborhood Development, said they are trying to use the funds for those who are not typically eligible for government aid programs.

He said rent assistance is often restricted to families and seniors, and this will give a fund to help the mentally ill get into housing at a faster rate.

"You stabilize someone in housing and their overall health improves," Milner said.

He said these funds will reduce overall health care costs because the clients will be able to stay on their medication more easily and will not be going in and out of shelters, hospitals or jails.

Milner said there are other homelessness projects they are working on with the money from Funding Our Future. He said they are working on a shared housing program through the Road Home and a program to help provide housing for families with children to stay within the same school boundaries.

"There’s never going to be one way to solve homelessness. Homelessness is so diverse and so complex and so this is just a way to … come up with diverse and complex programs to then meet those needs," Milner said.

He said the funding could continue to next year. The programs are determined yearly based on their needs and success.