Utah and Seattle seem to have a pattern of exchanging homeless solutions. Utah successfully acts on advice from the Emerald City, and meanwhile, the issue persists in the Northwest. The back-and-forth continues as Salt Lake could now look to Seattle for tips on how to organize homeless encampments.
RELATED: Can Seattle learn from Utah to solve its homeless crisis?
It all started in Seattle in 2004, when Director of Utah’s Homeless Task Force Lloyd Pendleton traveled to the Northwest to get advice on how to solve Utah’s homeless issue. He met Seattle’s Bill Hobson, director of Seattle’s Downtown Emergency Service Center.
“You were a model for us,” Pendleton told KIRO Radio just over a year ago, further detailing how Utah cut chronic homelessness by 91 percent within 10 years of his visit to Seattle — a success story that drew national attention.
Their winning strategy: Give the homeless homes. It was based on a housing-first approach picked up in Seattle. Utah built hundreds of housing units to provide stability. Seattle watched Utah’s success while its own problem grew to crisis levels — even though area leaders touted a plan to end homelessness. Obviously, that didn’t happen.
Despite consultant Barb Poppe recently telling Seattle leaders that tent cities are the wrong way to go — pointing to Salt Lake City’s success — Seattle’s latest remedies include city-approved encampments.
Seattle solution for Salt Lake, again?
While chronic homelessness has gone down in Utah, there remains an issue with illegal homeless camps spreading out around Salt Lake.
“I went up in Chopper 5 and flew over the valley and I was astonished at how many illegal encampments I saw in the valley,” Salt Lake City reporter Candice Madsen told KSL Newsradio recently. “I talked to the health department, (homelessness) is increasing by 25 percent every year. In the last three years – 1,000 cases.”
Now, Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder has proposed a government-approved homeless encampment for his community — a sanctioned tent city with services. Sound familiar?
Salt Lake reporters looked to areas known for such tent cities to see how it’s done. That brought them to — you guessed it — Seattle. Apparently, Seattle stands out quite a bit when it comes to homeless encampments. The KSL reporter traveled to Seattle and Portland to find out how the camps may translate to Utah’s situation.
“One thing that struck me is the way they are organized, they are actually self-managed by the residents themselves,” Madsen said. “They are very empowering. That’s what really struck me, the confidence it gives the people living there. A lot of them say it’s hard to go right from the streets back to living in mainstream society and this offers a transition. It’s not meant to be permanent.”
Madsen is likely talking about sites such as Camp Second Chance, which has a controversial past of its own. It was once an illegal camp, but has gained city approval and receives public support. Drugs and alcohol are not allowed in Camp Second Chance, and the program has had success moving people out of tents and into housing.
Seattle’s current homeless plan isn’t just about encampments, however. The city has created a Navigation Team to meet people experiencing homelessness one-on-one — like they do in Utah. A Navigation Center is also in the works to act as a one-stop resource for services and extended shelter, and ultimately housing. Seattle still operates six homeless encampments — the city started with three then added three more in 2017.
But who knows, give it a few years and Seattle may be looking to Utah to learn how to properly organize tent cities.