This speech was offered at the Salt Lake County Government Building CORC press conference on the American Rescue Plan funding coming to Utah for affordable housing. Below are my remarks:
There is a well-known and loved scripture in my faith tradition that are the words of Jesus to his followers: In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. This passage highlights for us that there is room for everyone, a space of love, security and dignity. Moreover, that each person is seen and valued. Room for all and a room for all. It matters, in my faith worldview, to God and so it matters to me and as a community who professes to care for one another that people have a dwelling place. We try to live this out from our diverse and varied perspectives, and yet, I know that I and we fall short despite good intentions. But we are given opportunities to try again.
We are in such a space right now to try again. We have an opportunity to create dwelling places for our neighbors who are unhoused with the $225 million dollars coming to the state to address the complexity of housing needs the American Rescue Plan. We know from the data that the initiative of Housing First, that is offering housing before other wrap around intervention services, is effective. In particular, stabilizing families with housing allows for the other layers to be addressed, such as health and mental health concerns. Both of which are typically a leading cause of chronic homelessness and without intervention, can perpetuate the cycle. In recent studies over 20% of people experiencing homelessness was diagnosed with a mental illness and 50% were living with a disability.
Data from the Housing First initiative in Utah county reported that 89% of families housed under a Housing First program remain housed 12 months later. SL County and Utah county have both witnessed the success of this initiative, and yet, we are still in need of a deeper commitment to additional housing availability for Housing First programs. Additional dwelling places are needed. This commitment will require outlay of funding at the onset but the county and state will reap the benefits long term when more families are stable, working, receiving education, productive and have dignity and value. Long term, affordable and accessible housing allows the health and mental health challenges to be effectively addressed and mitigated, thus offering a healthier population.
The gift of SL County that I see each day, is the value of community and the health of the people. Now is the time to invest in that value, to say yes to a dwelling place for each family and person, to say yes to a safe, loving space where we all thrive and flourish as intended by our loving God. How we spend our time, our resources and yes, our money, speaks to this value. Let’s value our siblings in need of a dwelling place.