No one-size-fits-all solution to help those experiencing homelessness, expert says

Feb 26, 2024, 4:00 PM

Homelessness grew by 12% in 2023 from last year, meaning 70,650 more people were unhoused....

Homelessness grew by 12% in 2023 from last year, meaning 70,650 more people were unhoused. (Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images)

(Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY — Those experiencing homelessness in Utah are often presented with similar options, regardless of their situation. And advocates say other options, oand ther ideas, are needed.

 Randy Shumway, the co-chair of the Utah Homelessness Council, said that current options do not address the root of an individual’s struggle. 

Shumway told KSL NewsRadio’s Inside Sources that there is no one-size-fits-all fix to helping people out of homelessness. Furthermore, he said that each individual’s situation needs to be more closely considered when offering help. 

“We treat everyone who’s experiencing homelessness similarly. [Providing] similar solutions,” said Shumway. 

Those experiencing situational homelessness are often dealing with economic problems such as jobs, education, or housing. However, those experiencing chronic homelessness are more likely to have mental health issues or disabilities at the root of their struggles. 

The National Alliance to End Homelessness said that those who have been homeless for at least a year are considered chronically homeless. Shumway explained that giving $1,000 to someone who is homeless because of a job loss, or divorce, that money would likely help them.

However, giving the same amount of money to someone dealing with homelessness that has been caused by a mental illness or disability is less likely to have a positive effect. 

“Oftentimes we refer to evidence-based practices and there are a number of practices that work for different subpopulations — but make the problems worse for other subpopulations,” said Shumway. 

How do we help those experiencing homelessness?

When helping the chronically homeless, Shumway suggested building a system that can give them individualized support. 

“This system [would] not only help the individual but [also allow] policymakers to know what’s working. And what’s not working,” said Shumway. 

Secondly, Shumway said that mental, behavioral, and substance abuse support needs to become more available. 

“So that we’re getting really to the root of the problem,” Shumway added. 

Also, for the system to function smoothly, there neds to be more behavioral health professionals. Currently, according to Shumway, two Utah colleges are collaborating with the state’s licensing office. The University of Utah and Salt Lake Community College are working to get more professionals licensed. 

Finally, Shumway said that the criminal justice system needs reform. 

“We need to allow for civil commitment (court ordered treatment.) We need sequential intercept and diversion models that are really helping us bring the support needed,” said Shumway. 

Currently, civil commitment is allowed in Utah following evaluation by a “designated examiner,” per the Utah Department of Health and Human Services.

Shumway did not elaborate on the reforms that would need to be made to the process. 

Related: National and Utah homeless population growing


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