“Homelessness is a very real situation in Moab, although we don’t always see it,” said Liz Donkersloot.
She is the Housing Resource Coordinator for the Moab Valley Multicultural Center, one of several social service providers that are part of the Grand County Local Homelessness Council, a group that shares information on issues of home security and homelessness. -abrism and how to solve them. In addition to the Multicultural Center, members include the Seekhaven Family Crisis and Resource Center, Four Corners Behavioral Health, Moab Solutions and the Moab Regional Hospital.
“These agencies work with families who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless on a daily basis,” Donkersloot said. A member of the Grand County Commission chairs it; recently, Mary McGann handed over the post to Commissioner Trisha Hedin.
The group began to develop a new approach to information sharing, called Coordinated Entry, following federal recommendations.
“We kind of took our own tour of Grand County,” Donkersloot said of the coordinated entry approach. “There are a lot of systems in place at the state and federal levels that are really put in place for cities and big cities. Being a smaller rural area, these systems don’t really work for us.
While various organizations provide resources to people who are homeless, Grand County lacks services like an emergency shelter, temporary housing, or a warming or cooling center for days of extreme weather conditions.
The coordinated entry approach is a way for organizations to prioritize assistance to the most vulnerable community members with the most serious needs. It also allows service and aid organizations to share information to identify service gaps or quickly direct clients to the most appropriate agency or resource. The process, promoted by the Federal Ministry of Housing and Urban Development, allows service agencies to share information about client cases among themselves, while keeping this information confidential within the coordination group.
Although the Moab Regional Hospital cannot participate due to patient confidentiality rules, the other agencies that make up the Local Homeless Council have joined the coordinated entry group, as well as the Department of Health Services. workforce.
Adapting to the shared information system will not be difficult in Grand County, says Donkersloot.
“In Moab, our organizations are already so closely linked that we have these conversations in real time,” she said, noting that in more populated areas, such systems can help organizations find the best resources faster. for the customers.
To start working within the coordinated entry system, the Local Homeless Council is focusing on improving data collection.
Each month, participating organizations can provide an overview of their work, including statistics such as the number of clients they have served, the number of homeless clients, the number of people at risk of becoming homeless, the number of victims of domestic violence, drug addiction, mental health problems, or how many had criminal records. Adjacent data such as mental health or crime records are important because they can affect clients’ ability to access and stay in housing.
For example, many housing assistance programs prohibit people with a criminal history.
“It’s such a barrier to housing in our community,” Donkersloot said. “A lot of people with these stories – it happened a long time ago, they’ve changed, they’re trying to move on with their lives and there’s no place for these people to live.”
With more comprehensive data, the group will be able to identify the community’s most pressing needs and use the data to advocate for more state resources. Granular data can inform the best way to use funds.
“We’re going to see where the trends are, and if 60% of our homeless population has mental health issues, how can we advocate for more support for our mental health agencies in town,” Donkersloot said. as an example.
One of the long-term goals of the Grand County Local Homelessness Council is to increase access to emergency housing. Donkersloot said she would like to see a center with facilities such as lockers, showers and a seating area for homeless people to escape the heat or the cold.
Such councils exist statewide, usually affiliated with a county government, and serve as community-level needs monitors, information collectors, and distributors of housing and homelessness resources.
“With some of the more current crises and situations occurring, it is becoming increasingly evident that these resources are needed and that this advice is needed,” Donkersloot said.
Local homeless councils operate under a regional Continuum of Care, including three in Utah: one for the Salt Lake Valley, one for three counties near Salt Lake County, and one for the rest. of Utah’s 25 counties, including Grand County.
This means that a wide range of communities, which may have very different needs, all fall under the same continuum of care, which assesses organizations and projects seeking funding and chooses which to recommend to receive federal funding.
A state bill passed this year established the new Office of Homeless Services within the Department of Workforce Services, as well as a new position of Homeless Services Coordinator. of the state, which was occupied by former Senator Wayne Niederhauser.
The declared mission of the state on homelessness is to make it “rare, brief and non-recurring”.
In service of this mission, Utah takes a “Housing First” approach for people with multiple social service needs or other issues.
“You don’t judge someone if they have an addiction disorder or for what they’ve done in the past, what you focus on is housing them,” Donkersloot said.
Donkersloot hopes that Governor Spencer Cox’s long history of providing affordable housing and supporting rural areas will translate into strong support for the new Homeless Services Bureau, and that regional and state agencies will listen to needs of communities.
“I think he goes to great lengths to make sure everyone’s voice is heard,” Donkersloot said.