The Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce and State Homeless Director Wayne Niederhauser urged the Utah Legislature Tuesday to approve the governor's homeless appropriation budget request.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox's proposed budget for homelessness held a $193 million price tag. The allocation includes $130 million for emergency shelter; $8 million for behavioral health professionals; $7 million focused on prevention, including affordable housing; $50 million for the first-time homebuying program and a $10 million one-time investment to establish a diversion court pilot program called HOME Court.

The request came during a press conference at the Salt Lake Chamber office as the legislative session enters its 35th day and as lawmakers have called for more accountability and measures of productivity for homeless services funding. The issue of homelessness ranks high on constituents' minds, with a December 2023 poll placing it as the third-top issue facing Utah.

"Since October 2023, Salt Lake City has had 12,000 officer hours dedicated to homelessness, 21,000 unsheltered contacts, 5,000 service referrals, 170 citations, and 220 arrests. But there needs to be continuous support. We've had more winter beds than we've ever had — for 650, in round numbers. That's a big deal," said Niederhauser.

The beds have been utilized at high capacity, showing that unsheltered people want to access shelter, he added. But as the winter overflow season nears its end in April, approximately 400 of those beds will no longer be available.

"Those folks will be faced with being back out on the street. We'd like to prevent that and keep people in places where they're safe and the community is safer," said Niederhauser. "The governor's budget supports this comprehensive and collaborated approach. Partnerships are so critical, partnerships with the philanthropic community, business community, with Salt Lake City and county, and really, all the cities, and (it's) something we all need to step up and address this issue."

Salt Lake Chamber President Derek Miller penned a letter to the Legislature on Friday asking for lawmakers' support in that partnership and funding request.

"We have witnessed the success of this type of approach. As a significant example of the positive impact, over the past six months, Salt Lake City has experienced marked improvements in street safety and the reduction of street camping," the letter reads, in part.

The letter reported a 33% decrease in crime by one of downtown's largest employers and said visitation had risen 14% in the 2023 year-over-year. The letter was signed by Salt Lake Chamber and Downtown Alliance members.

While there have been improvements, there has been a 23% increase in the incidence of homelessness.

"I have witnessed the changes and growth of our downtown community. Some have said Salt Lake has experienced a renaissance and transformed into a cultural powerhouse. This is 100% true. There are new businesses; new buildings and residential towers continue popping up all over. However, with these changes, we have seen some challenges, including a rise in the unsheltered population downtown," said Linda Wardell, City Creek Center general manager. "Our Legislature must act now. We have seen the impact that can be made when adequate support, resources and enforcement are provided."