HOUSING + HOMELESSNESS

Gov. Cox releases budget plan to improve homelessness resources in Utah

Dec 4, 2023, 1:00 PM | Updated: 4:45 pm

governor cox and several other people speak about his plan to address homelessness in utah...

Gov. Spencer Cox is joined by local leaders and Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson as he unveils the state's 2025 homelessness plan at a press conference at Atherton Community Treatment Center in West Valley City on Monday, Dec. 4, 2023. (Scott G Winterton/Deseret News)

(Scott G Winterton/Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Spencer Cox announced budget plans for improving Utah’s homelessness services on Monday as part of his larger budget recommendations that will be released Tuesday.

Cox said that the plans focus on three areas: providing behavioral health resources, stabilizing emergency shelters, and preventing homelessness in the first place.

 

Cox said Utah needs 8000 more mental health workers to meet the needs of the homeless community.

“As a result, we’re recommending $8 million to alleviate the workforce shortages in our behavioral health system. This includes $3.3 million, one-time, for paid internships loan forgiveness and incentives for training,” Cox said.

Part of the focus is also a $10.6 million fund towards a parallel judicial system that sends homeless people to treatment services rather than jail.

Some homeless advocates think the governor’s solution to the problem is problematic itself.

Executive Director of Unsheltered Utah Wendy Garvin told Inside Sources the plan has the potential for abuse.

“One of the details that has me a little bit concerned, is that we’re modeling this program very heavily on the Miami Model. And the Miami Model includes a heavy dose of involuntary commitment,” Garvin said, adding, “I think that as a state that very much values civil liberties, we are going to have to be extremely careful to not fall into some of the traps that we’ve seen in Florida.”

Garvin says that last year, 17% of these involuntary commitments were for youth.

“Which is very concerning, because it puts those youth into programs that almost inevitably put them into contact with more serious offenders or people with more serious issues. And so it does not necessarily give them the healing or support that they need.

Garvin said this can be done well with the right safeguards.

But the biggest hole right now that needs fixing, Garvin said, is that there are just not enough facilities.

“If we were to go out and commit everybody who has a serious mental illness right now, we would have nowhere to put them. And that means that we are five to ten years from really being able to implement this plan as intended. So we need to start. We need to move in the right direction. We need to put those guardrails in place to make sure we’re not abusing this system,” Garvin said.

Cox will release his full 2024 budget proposal on Tuesday.

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Gov. Cox releases budget plan to improve homelessness resources in Utah