Utah Solves Homelessness by Giving Away Homes


Utah has come up with a reasonable way to solve homelessness.  They give away homes. While other states continue to criminalize homelessness, Utah has taken a novel approach and has seen its homeless numbers go down while economic savings to the state have risen.

Tom Bower, a Hawaii State representative, made a name for himself walking around the streets of Waikiki armed with a sledgehammer.  Using it to destroy the shopping carts used by homeless people, he says he was “disgusted” by the city’s homeless problem.  Bower did not stop there.  If he came across a homeless person sleeping at a bus stop, he would wake them up.

While Bower’s strategy is over the top, his frustration with the homeless issue is just one example of the frustration that has led cities throughout America to deal with the homeless problem.  Most cities are turning to the idea of criminalizing homelessness.  Columbia, South Carolina has passed an ordinance that gives homeless people the choice between getting arrested or getting a bus ticket to, well, anywhere.

While Utah is solving its homeless problem by giving homes to the homeless, other cities are passing laws restricting what can and cannot be done to help the homeless.

Tampa, Florida, which led the country in homeless rates for mid-sized cities, passed a city ordinance calling for the police to arrest anyone they saw sleeping in public or storing personal property in public.  Tampa followed that up with an ordinance forbidding panhandling downtown and other locations throughout the city.

Philadelphia instituted a law banning the feeding of homeless people on city property such as parks.  Social justice groups, which objected to the ban, have continued the practice anyway.

Raleigh, North Carolina also took the steps of outlawing the feeding of homeless people in city parks and on city property.  Religious leaders of the city have announced that they will risk arrest rather than stop the regular feedings.

Utah is going against the tide.  In eight years, Utah has reduced homelessness by 78 percent and is on an arc to eliminating homelessness within the state by 2015.  Utah has accomplished this by doing the obvious, giving homeless people homes.

In 2005, Utah did the math and determined that the yearly costs of emergency room visits and jail for homeless people was $16,670 per person.  The cost of providing each homeless person with an apartment and social work came to $11,000.  So, with no strings attached, the state started giving away apartments.

The program, Housing First, also provides a caseworker to each homeless person to aid them in becoming self sufficient.  The program has become so successful that other states are looking for similar results by starting programs modeled after Utah’s.

An estimated 100 million people are homeless worldwide.  In Western countries, the majority are men.  Modern homelessness in America began as a result of economic struggles in society and the reduction of affordable housing.  In the 1970s, in the United States, the deinstitutionalisaztion of patients from state mental health facilities was a large factor in increasing the homeless population.  In the mid 1980s, an increase in family homelessness began, which continues to grow.

Homes Not Handcuffs, a 2009 report from The National Law Center on Homelessness, used a 2004 survey to conclude that permanent housing for the homeless is less expensive than criminalization.  The approach, endorsed by The National Coalition for the Homeless, feels that providing housing is not only more humane it is economical.

With more states finding themselves in a budget crunch, Utah’s approach may become a trendsetter as other jurisdictions work to solve homelessness by giving away homes.

By Jerry Nelson


The Missoulian
South Coast Today
Green Bay Press

17 Responses to Utah Solves Homelessness by Giving Away Homes

  1. Kat Zolita Mason September 18, 2014 at 1:56 pm

    Homeless people are not homeless because they choose to be. This is a popular myth. : There but for the grace of God go I!” . I think its a truly wonderful

  2. James C. Crosby June 14, 2014 at 3:36 pm

    Is this just for vets?

    • Mark Stewart September 19, 2014 at 1:01 am

      Yes, I live in Salt Lake City and volunteer at CCS (Catholic Community Services). CCS is the main soup kitchen in the valley, and is located across the street from the main shelter; the Road Home.

      Being that I am relatively in the midst of the homeless, I haven’t even seen a relative drop in homelessness, so I had my doubts.

      I called the Mayors office and they transferred me to the Mayors representative on homeless matters. I do not remember her name, but she stated the 78% was taken out of context. It ONLY represents housing for Vets.

  3. mike helms February 15, 2014 at 11:25 am

    Barry McClamrock ran for Mayor of Concord N.C. and the Mayor had his house torn down, I ran for Mayor of Concord N.C. four years later and the same Mayor forced me out of my home and he had my home torn down and forced me to sleeping on the streets of Concord N.C. without any shelter.

  4. Charles January 30, 2014 at 12:37 pm

    This is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. Sure it looks like you’re saving money at first. But all it does is make others want to join the crowd. Look. Over there they are giving away free apartments. Let’s go get in on this. Homeless people are homeless because they choose to be. Unless there is a mental issue. And yes. Many many of them do have this problem. But you can’t be solving a problem like this by giving handouts to every freeloader on the street. Too many along for the ride and not enough pulling the wagon.

    • Jerry Nelson January 30, 2014 at 12:52 pm

      The same thing has been done, on a smaller scale, around the country. The policy has consistently been shown to work. AND it’s a cheaper alternative to what most locales are doing.

    • Joel April 5, 2014 at 3:55 am

      Charles, I can understand your frustration and there might be some validity to your remarks about how a top down approach to the development of homelessness will save money in the short run. However, your understanding of people being homeless because they choose to is something I have to stand up and tell you is simply wrong. In alberta 80% of the people that suffer from chronic homelessness suffer from mental health issues. Additionally, Homelessness is never a choice, everyone that is experiencing homelessness for sure has made some poor choices. However, i would argue 100% of what we perceive to be choice, which may be true, is actually a result of the depravity of our world and how people have failed to raise their children, resulting in children never having the opportunity to develop and grow and understand how to live, these issues lead to the inevitable, homelessness. It is never a choice, and it never was.

  5. Mark Stewart January 25, 2014 at 3:10 pm

    This article is SEVERELY misguided.

    I live in Salt Lake City, and I work at a Mall (Gateway Mall) across the street from the Homeless shelter called the Road Home.

    The percentage didn’t seem right at all, so I called the Mayors office and they reported that the 78% is for homeless VETERANS.

    At lunch and dinner, you can watch HUNDREDS of homeless people line up for food.

    In other words, somebody (psst, Jerry Nelson) didn’t do their homework.

    Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that housing the homeless is the right thing to do…and thank goodness someone has shown that it is cheaper than having them on the streets.

    • Jerry Nelson January 25, 2014 at 3:21 pm

      Thanks for the feedback. The 78% figure came directly from a study done by ‘Campaign for America’s Future’ and can be seen and read on their website, OurFuture.org Again, thanks!

  6. Christina January 25, 2014 at 5:11 am

    This is the most positive thing I’ve heard in years. I hope many other states follow including Louisiana, Oklahoma and Arkansas. God Bless Utah!!!


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