Auditors Can’t Tell If $100M On Homeless Services Made A Difference

Dec 10, 2018, 6:03 PM | Updated: 9:58 pm

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Around $100 million was spent on homeless services in Utah last year, but no one knows if the money made a difference.

The findings of an audit from the Office of the Legislative Auditor General were released Monday. It’s a performance audit of Utah’s homeless services.

According to the audit, between state, federal and private donations, $100 million was spent on solving Utah’s homeless issue in 2017. However, auditors don’t know if any of the homeless services provided to decrease the state’s homeless population have been working.

“The quality of the data just isn’t where it needs to be,” said state auditor James Behunin. “We’re spending a lot of money on homeless services. What, if anything really out there, is helping these folks get off the street?”

People camp in the parking strip outside The Leonardo on 400 South in Salt Lake City on Monday, Dec. 10, 2018. (Steve Griffin, Deseret News)

Months ago, Utah lawmakers asked state auditors to find out which homeless programs were effective, and which efforts were placing people in housing.

The audit was unable to determine an answer.

“Due to problems with the data and weak management information systems, we were unable to answer either question,” the report said.

“If we can’t identify what’s working and what’s not working, we’re failing those people,” said Behunin.

Homeless advocates with the Pioneer Park Coalition agreed with state auditors.

“We can do better, and we are on the side of the auditors that there’s a lot of things that need to be fixed,” said David Kelly. “We need to have measurable goals, (and) measurable outcomes.”

According to the Pioneer Park Coalition, there are between 1,500-1,800 people homeless in Utah

In 2015, the state reported chronic homelessness had declined by 91 percent. It was a staggering figure that has been touted nationwide for the last three years.

The audit found that number was wrong. Auditors said it’s because of a difference in how chronic homelessness was measured in 2004 versus how it was measured in 2015.

“It is kind of embarrassing because we’ve said, ‘Hey, we’ve solved homelessness,’ and we didn’t,” said Kelly.

The state auditors’ advice going forward was to set measurable goals that can actually be tracked.

“Our legislators have said, ‘Hey, we’re spending a lot of money on this problem. We should feel good about that,’” said Behunin. “At the end of the day we want to change lives.”

A bill was expected to be introduced in the 2019 legislative session that would make changes based on the audits’ recommendations.

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Auditors Can’t Tell If $100M On Homeless Services Made A Difference