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New homeless plan heads to Utah governor's desk, but will it work?

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A new plan for dealing with homelessness in Utah is one step away from becoming official. (KUTV)

A new plan for dealing with homelessness in Utah is one step away from becoming official.

The Utah House of Representatives gave final approval to House Bill 347 Thursday, restructuring how the state manages this growing problem. The bill is now headed to Gov. Spencer Cox’s desk.

The bill is part of the state’s focus on addressing homelessness and affordable housing. Outside the Capitol Wednesday afternoon, state leaders announced $15 million in public funding combined with another $15 million in private donations to pay for this new homeless governance model and budget.

Under the bill, a homelessness coordinator will take charge of the state’s efforts to address this issue, working with a new homelessness council. Rep. Steve Eliason (R-Sandy), the bill sponsor, explained why this new structure is necessary.

We’ve got a really good team like the Utah Jazz, and each player represents different service providers,” said Eliason. “But right now, they’re kind of to some degree running around the court without a coach.”

Eliason said the new homelessness coordinator “will try to bring everybody together, coordinate things better, and kind of call the plays so we’re working together.”

This new structure is in line with a November 2020 study from the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute that recommended several changes to “create a simpler, more transparent, and coordinated system for homeless services" in Utah.

Dave Kelly, chair of the Pioneer Park Coalition, said he likes the bill and overall plan behind it. He said having one person in charge can be effective if that person is given the ability to do hard things – “making everybody really uncomfortable” – and ensures money is spent wisely.

But he also worries about politics getting in the way, especially since the new homelessness coordinator will report directly to the governor.

“There’s going to be politics all the way around,” Kelly said.

2News asked Eliason about the danger of politics impeding the homelessness coordinator from doing his or her job.

“I guess you could argue any position has that kind of a risk, but the governor is one of the very few statewide elected officials, and the governor takes this issue very personally," Eliason said. "If anybody wants to see this succeed, I think it’s Gov. Cox."