- Associated Press - Sunday, October 22, 2017

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Utah’s spending on homelessness has grown by nearly $20 million over the past two years, according to a legislative audit.

The legislative auditor general’s report, which was released last week, says Utah spent roughly $81.2 million on direct and indirect costs for federal, state, county and city homeless services and programs in 2016.

That’s an increase from $71.5 million in 2015 and $63.6 million in 2014, according to the report.

That does not factor in the estimated $67 million the state expects to spend on Operation Rio Grande, an effort to stop crime and help the homeless in Salt Lake City, over the next two years.

The report says indirect costs - spending on programs such as policing and jails that would exist otherwise but are inflated by homelessness - accounted for $40.8 million in the most recent fiscal year studied.

Indirect costs make up the biggest portion of city and county’s spending on homelessness, the audit said. Salt Lake City shouldered 85 percent of the $11.2 million in direct and indirect costs on policing.

Auditors attribute much of the growth to “associated costs,” funding programs that would exist “regardless of homeless populations,” such as policing or behavioral health programs.

For example, almost all of Salt Lake County’s $8.9 million in spending to address homelessness in 2016 went toward behavioral health and criminal justice costs, and Salt Lake City spent nearly 85 percent of its $11.2 million in associated costs on policing.

“Associated costs have grown much faster than direct costs from fiscal years 2014 to 2016,” the report states, noting that associated spending was $40.8 million in 2016 - up 48 percent from the $27.6 million spent in fiscal year 2014.

“The increase in associated costs has likely been spurred, in part, by the rise in the number of homeless individuals receiving Medicaid, along with increased police costs incurred in areas of the city with large numbers of transient populations,” the report states.

Overall, however, state and federal funds “appear to be distributed appropriately,” auditors concluded.

House Speaker Greg Hughes said after the audit was presented to the Legislature’s Subcommittee on Oversight on Tuesday that the state and city have worked well together.

“We have been partners. We’ve been outside our lanes a little bit as of late,” he said, referring to Operation Rio Grande. But in terms of “how we harmonize our efforts, I have nothing but good things to say about this experience.”

Operation Rio Grande is a plan to restore public safety and provide assessment and treatment for addiction and behavioral disorders for those in the Rio Grande district of Salt Lake City.

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