Review finds Utah’s data on homeless riddled with problems

Dec 16, 2018, 11:16 AM | Updated: 11:26 am
Credit: Rick Bowmer, AP

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — None of the data collected about the state’s homeless population helps evaluate the effectiveness of different programs because it’s riddled with inconsistencies and lacks clear, measurable goals, the state auditor reports.

The audit was designed to help state lawmakers decide which programs deserve funding, but it instead concluded better planning and goal setting is needed before any assessments can be made.

The critical report released last week even found that a 2015 declaration by state officials it had reduced the chronic homeless population by 91 percent thanks to a housing program was erroneous and based on bad data.

State officials proudly touted that figure as validation of the work they were doing, but the audit found most of the decrease was because of a change in how they counted that population.

“After finding significant problems with the data, we lost confidence in the accuracy of our results,” the auditors wrote. “Therefore, we could not complete the Legislature’s request for program-level performance data.”

The data includes errors, confusion and reflects a lack of coordination between the numerous agencies who try to help the homeless, the audit found.

It recommended the creation of measurable goals, regular reviews of the data and training to teach agencies how to better manage information.

“Before Utah can evaluate the success of its homeless-service system, it must first define what success is.”

Republican Senate President Wayne Niederhauser suggested during a hearing Monday about the report that maybe funding needs to be cut or reduced until service providers make changes. Republican state Sen. Jake Anderegg said he’ll sponsor legislation next year to enact the auditor’s recommendations.

Jon Hardy, director of the Housing and Community Development Division at the Department of Workforce Services, said his agency is committed to improving.

Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox told the Deseret News he’s not surprised by the results, saying he had prior concerns. Cox is chairman of the state’s Homeless Coordinating Committee.

“We’re really excited about this audit and what came back because it allows us to now go in and make the changes that need to be made and fix it so we can monitor this going forward,” Cox said. “We have to have good data.”

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Review finds Utah’s data on homeless riddled with problems