Utah Is Expunging Minor Crimes For Homeless To Help Them Get Fresh Start

Re-building the lives of Utah's once-chronically homeless

An ambitious pilot program to help former chronically homeless people in Utah has proven to be successful despite some legal challenges.  

The 14-month-long program sought to help chronically homeless people secure jobs and housing by clearing minor crimes from their records. 

“A series of minor crimes within a short period can make someone ineligible very quickly, especially considering typical ‘homeless crimes’ such as camping in public, public intoxication, etc. are all counted,” a report from the Utah Legal Services (ULS) obtained by The Huffington Post stated.

According to the report, 28 expungement petitions were granted. The program also procured 22 reductions in charges for its clients over the course of the project, which ended this past June. Amy Powers, an attorney at ULS running the initiative, said they have requested an extension for the pilot to complete pending work with their clients.

The program did run into roadblocks, including clients who had unpaid fines, more than four convictions and pending criminal cases.

This rendered some people who were referred to the initiative ineligible, Lloyd Pendleton, director of the Utah Housing Task Force – and popularly known as Utah’s homelessness czar -- told Deseret News.

"When they started laying all of this out, one person could have like 25 expungement processes. I thought, 'Whoa, this is a whole lot more complicated to get your record expunged,'" he said.

The program’s expungement cost per client ranged from $1,500 to $2,500, according to the news outlet. Compare that to the $20,000 it costs the government annually for homeless people to live on the street. 

Utah has been on the nationwide forefront of combatting homelessness, with a 91 percent drop in the population of Utah’s chronically homeless over the past 10 years . The state’s success is largely attributed to the “housing first” program, launched in 2005, which provides the homeless with free and permanent housing.

And the state is continuing to move forward with finding solutions, Gordon Walker, director of the state Division of Community and Housing, told Deseret News  in April:

“Of that 91 percent, the remaining balance is 178 people. We know them by name, who they are and what their needs are,” Walker said.


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