Throughout the nation, conservative legislatures and city governments have recently been taking rather drastic measures to eliminate homelessness. With officials throughout Florida and South Carolina effectively criminalizing homelessness and they and other areas either banning or working to discourage feeding the homeless, it would seem that the right wing solutions to poverty are mixes of shame and punishment.
However in deeply religious, highly conservative state of Utah, officials have adopted a novel approach to eliminating homelessness, by simply giving their indigent residents free homes and social workers.
Flying in the face of the modern conservative war on the poor, which generally regards poverty and suffering as something to be shunned as opposed to addressed, Utah’s boldly progressive efforts to house the homeless over the past eight years has proven to be a tremendous success. Not only reducing homelessness in the “beehive state” by 78%, the practice of has proven economically beneficial, having saved the state thousands if not millions of dollars.
Previously estimating the average of jail and emergency room costs at roughly $16,670 per homeless individual, Utah found significant savings in the appropriation of housing and case management approach, with individual costs coming down to a mere $11,000 annually. Presently, the state is on track to effectively wipe out homelessness within their borders by next year.
Taking the “hand up, not hand out” approach quite in stride, the state has coupled their housing of the estimated 2000 homeless they’ve helped so far, with an active case management program, assigning social services case workers to help oversee and aid in personal and financial recovery of those involved. By assisting in the transition, Utah state agents and case workers are going beyond mere check-ins. Through concentrated and coordinated case management, case workers are aiding in the effort to bring the generally unemployed and sometimes ill or disabled homeless off the streets, assisting them with everything from personal recovery, to job searches, all in the effort to help them back onto their own two feet.
Though countless, generally Republican led efforts have been devised and attempted under the guises of assisting those in need to establish themselves as self sustaining, most of such welfare and social services reform measures have often serving the purposes of hindering poverty stricken individuals recovery, more than actually helping. Serving to kick people while their down, many legislatures and Republican politicians have even attempted mandating shame and scrutiny for social assistance, by way of mandatory drug testing for welfare recipients and the rooting of homeless people out of public spaces.
Presently a number of other states are weighing similar programs, modeled on that in Utah, with even Republican and conservative leaders taking note of its success. Though unlikely to become a mainstay of right wing social policy, the substantial gains made in Utah by tackling the issue in such a way are adding a new dynamic to the ways in which people and governments are viewing the issues of poverty and homelessness.