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Guest opinion: To solve homelessness, we need capital and talent

Officials break ground for a homeless resource center at 131 E. 700 South in Salt Lake City on Monday, May 7, 2018. Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Homelessness is a crisis that can be solved. We must recapture the momentum that was created by Gov. Herbert, Congressman McAdams (then Salt Lake County’s mayor) and Utah’s legislative and municipal leaders from 2015-2018.

Utahns have invested heavily in efforts to increase public safety, reform our justice system, care for the poor and needy, provide affordable housing and address homelessness. More than $68 million has been allocated to build three new homeless resource centers and $67 million was used for Operation Rio Grande. These long-term investments achieve one part of what it takes to accomplish a successful result.

The other part is to ensure our homelessness vision and plan is led by top-level leadership talent. The leadership chosen must believe in the plan to move from sheltering (warehousing) human beings to assessing a person’s needs and then creating a customized course of action to help people experiencing homelessness gain new hope and dignity.

The state chose Shelter the Homeless to manage the construction and to oversee the selection of the operators of the new Homeless Resource Centers.

  • Catholic Community Services of Utah will operate the 200-bed men/women’s resource center located on Paramount Avenue in Salt Lake City.
  • Volunteers of America Utah will operate the 200-bed women’s resource center located on 700 South in Salt Lake City.
  • The Road Home will operate the 300-bed men’s resource center located in South Salt Lake and will continue operating the 300-bed family center in Midvale.

To be clear and straightforward, we believe the selection of Matt Melville of Catholic Community Services and Kathy Bray of Volunteers of America will prove to be very wise selections. We want to address two urgent needs in order to round out the leadership team.

First is the selection of a new executive director of The Road Home — a process that is now underway. This leadership choice will be pivotal to achieving success, therefore we strongly urge that a national search be conducted to select a leader who believes in the Homeless Resource Center vision and has the experience to execute the planned solution.

Second, we need our elected officials to play a role in this leadership selection process. The keys to a successful outcome in these kinds of multi-jurisdictional efforts are maintaining a sense of urgency and supporting all partners involved. Shelter the Homeless, the speaker of the House, the president of the Senate and Utah’s governor should all be focused on providing that urgency and support to achieve the best result. Their collective eye and input in selecting new leadership ensures that the effort of implementing the new model stays laser-focused and protects the public resources that have already been invested.

Our homeless resource centers must be safe places for people to sleep and connect with resources that will put them on a pathway toward self-sufficiency. It is inhumane to have people sleeping in makeshift tents and it is not good for our communities to have people living on our streets.

This complex problem can be solved with the proper use of talent and capital. Our community’s compassion and impactful reforms have made great progress since the dark days of 2017 and will be needed in the months and years to come. We know that Utah is up for the challenge.

David Ibarra is a leadership consultant and entrepreneur, with a background in the hospitality and automotive industries. Greg Hughes is a business owner in the construction and property management industry and is the former Utah House Speaker. Both are members of the Pioneer Park Coalition Board of Directors.