Experts highlight challenges in helping vulnerable homeless populations

Local News

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (News4Utah) – The Road Home has promised changes after an audit by the state revealed lax enforcement of rules and drug use in multiple facilities. Experts are weighing in on why dealing with a vulnerable and addicted population can be difficult.

Matt Minkevitch is the Executive Director Road Home. During a hearing with lawmakers, he pointed that the need for services has more than doubled since the homelessness and addiction crisis took off. It’s made it more difficult to enforce “zero tolerance” policies.

“You’re caught with a needle you’re out for a year and that doesn’t make sense right now,” said Minkevitch. “Because we don’t have somewhere to refer that individual.”

In recent years, experts have found that taking a different approach to homelessness and addiction can provide better outcomes.

House Speaker Greg Hughes voiced anger because he thought the lack of following the rules put others in danger. He pointed to a case where a man under the influence of drugs was caught inside the shelter with a loaded handgun.

“That is chilling for me to read and chilling for me to understand that circumstance and that loaded handgun,” said Speaker Hughes. “Someone who is not supposed to be in there is in a vulnerable population.”

Odyssey House in Salt Lake City specializes in treating people with addiction issues. Chief Operating Officer Christina Zidow notes that “line in the sand” type policies often don’t work.

“Because substance abuse is a chronically relapsing, remitting disease, we don’t have a zero tolerance policy,” said Zidow.

She also points out that a lack or rules and structure, can hurt a person’s ability to recover. Zidow said at their facility there would be different consequences if someone relapsed while in their facility versus outside of it.

“A hierarchy of consequence and a hierarchy of expectation and responsibility can create some internal structure,” said Zidow. “Some environmental structure that helps perpetuate progress.”

Zidow points out that the key to recovery has to do with a multitude of factors besides housing. She notes that access to treatment and mental health services are vital to a patients success.

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