OPINION: A Utah homelessness czar is priority one 

Feb 12, 2020, 5:07 PM
Utah Homelessness Czar...
The time has come in Utah for a homelessness czar, or, someone behind the sign "the buck stops here." (Photo credit: Getty Images)
(Photo credit: Getty Images)

This is an editorial piece. An editorial, like a news article, is based on fact but also shares opinions. The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and are not associated with our newsroom. 

SALT LAKE CITY — “The Buck Stops Here.” That’s a statement that should be on the desk of a Utah homelessness czar.

The same statement was on a sign, little more than a foot long, which sat on the desk of President Harry S. Truman. It was a constant reminder that responsibility for something could not be passed onto somebody else. 

So when it comes to the homelessness issue in Utah, where does the buck stop?

A federal homelessness czar starts the ball rolling

“Who’s in charge? Who’s the leader?” asked Robert MarbutPresident Trumps’ homelessness czar, when he visited KSL NewsRadio. We’re sort of getting a lot of fingers going different directions: they are, she is, that is. 

Marbut visited Utah this week while on a factfinding mission regarding homelessness in America 

Three weeks ago, the Salt Lake City Library, aka Library Square, was inundated by tents, tarps, and trash. 

We went to Library Square and cleaned it up three weeks ago. It was pristine and spotless,” said former State Sen. Scott Howell, a Democrat and advocate for the homeless.  “Within two weeks, it’s another encampment. The most frightening part of this is the trash, the human waste. Who would you call? Is it the mayors’ office? Shelter the Homeless? Is it the Health Department?”

“I’m not exaggerating, there’s probably 20 or 30 committees out there. Some of them thinking they’re in charge, others thinking that they’re not in charge,” said Howell. 

There’s an old football adage: “If you have two quarterbacks, you have none.” 

That’s not to say that there hasn’t been a lot of effort put into solving the homelessness problem. Thousands of hours have been put in and millions of dollars have been spent to fix it. 

“We have a lot of motion, but we don’t have a lot of forward movement in solving the problem,” said Boyd Matheson, host of KSL NewsRadio’s Inside Sources.  Matheson has taught leadership seminars for 20 years. “In motion, you do get some results and you feel good because you’re doing something. Who’s going to drive this forward so you’re not just moving around?” 

“You’ve got to have somebody that can drive transparency and hold people accountable for actually taking action,” said Matheson. 

“If the model is right and you’re increasing money, the numbers should be going down and that is just not happening.” Marbut said. 

Operation Rio Grande was the beginning

The largest and most comprehensive solution in recent memory was Operation Rio Grande. Speaker of the House Greg Hughes, a Republican now running for governor, took the bull by the horns and bulldozed his way to results. 

 “He was the person that everybody turned to and he took that leadership role,” said Howell, “He brought the disparate groups together, he was a disruptor of what was going on and he led that initiative.  

Now that new leadership is in place at the legislature, they have different goals and objectives and the homelessness issue is no longer their top priority. 

Current Sen. President Stuart Adams, also a Republican, is intrigued by the idea of a Utah Homelessness Czar. Someone that can put a “The Buck Stops Here” sign on their desk. 

“The legislature stepped forward, municipalities stepped forward, non-profits stepped forward, but there probably needs to be a real effort to coordinate it… It’s something we need to look at, said Adams. 

Pick someone and get moving

Here’s my oversimplified pitch– stolen mostly from the ideas of the individuals mentioned above. 

The governor appoints a cabinet-level homelessness czar.  

The new czar will reorganize the existing groups into a new committee with clear lines of communicationaccountability, and transparency. 

The new czar will invest in data-driven solutions. They’ll determine if it is housing first, needle exchange programs, mental health resources or jobs. The new czar can consolidate the data to see what is working and focusing on results instead of efforts. 

Of course, this is assuming they can find the right person for the job. 

Dave & Dujanovic can be heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app, as well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play.

Listen on Google Play Music

Other reading:

New Sugar House overnight homeless shelter opens

Volunteers needed for Utah Homeless Point In Time Count

Stories from the Streets: The middle class mom who ended up homeless

Temporary homeless shelter in Salt Lake City to open in Sugar House


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OPINION: A Utah homelessness czar is priority one