Homelessness continues to increase, panel says

By By Andrew Cone

By Andrew Cone

The amount of homeless people in Salt Lake City is increasing, according to a panel of experts who spoke at the Hinckley Institute of Politics on Friday.

“We had just shy of 1,000 people who turned to us for shelter last night,” said Matt Minkovich, executive director for the Road Home, the largest homeless shelter in Utah. “I think there has been an inability of community centers to grow with demand, and so the supply has been outstripped by the demand.”

Minkovich said Section 8 programs, which are programs assisted by the federal government, are outpaced by demand and the minimum wage has not kept up with the cost of living.

“A minimum wage job used to be able to pay rent, pay groceries, pay utilities, and that certainly is not the case now,” Minkovich said during the panel discussion on Feb. 1, “The solution is affordable housing. There’s a record breaking demand. Let’s look for a lasting solution.”

Other factors the panelists said are causing an increase in the homeless population are domestic violence, layoffs, sparse affordable housing options and a lack of knowledge about available assistance programs.

“There’s a lot of programs readily available, (but) a lot of people just don’t know about them,” said Laney Kawaguchi, a freshman business marketing major.

Jeffrey Jenkins, a sophomore English and political science major, agreed.

“There (are) wonderful programs, we just need more preventative measures,” Jenkins said. “We should take steps to help these people before they wind up on the street.”

The panel also featured Pamela Atkinson, a local advocate for the rights of homeless people and recipient of the 2005 Athena Award. The Pamela Atkinson Homeless Trust Fund, established by the 2003 Utah State Legislature, was named in her honor and helps homeless people move toward self-sufficiency through state funding and charitable donations.

Atkinson said most of the panhandlers seen in Pioneer Park and around downtown aren’t homeless.

“I’ve actually followed some of them to their cars…and I’ve followed their cars to the liquor stores, and then they go to their trailers or apartments,” she said.

Regardless, Minkovich said the community needs to create a relationship with the homeless.

“We believe that we can work to help people overcome homelessness by building a relationship with them,” Minkovich said.

Anyone wishing to contribute to the trust fund can do so on their Utah State Income Tax Form. These contributions go directly toward services for the homeless. “That money is used for shelter, emergency services and intensive case management when people come in from off the street,” Atkinson said. “If everyone who fills out their state income tax forms gave $2, we could raise a million dollars.”

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