Homelessness, poverty, mental health among issues to watch this legislative session
*Originally published in City Journals
With the state legislative session underway, the Salt Lake County Council is keeping an eye on a number of bills that could impact our county residents. Although there will be many interesting issues, here are some that I will be paying particular interest to.
Over the last year, homelessness has been a focal point of county, state, and city leaders in the Salt Lake area. With the spike in criminal behavior and victimization in the Rio Grande district of downtown Salt Lake, and with help from Operation Rio Grande, much of our time has been spent discussing solutions and allocating additional resources. We appreciate our state partners in this endeavor.
Though Operation Rio Grande has had many successes, we’re certainly not finished. Providing the right tools for our homeless residents to get back on their feet is a long-term effort. As any legislation arises to fund homeless services or alter current programs or resources, we’ll examine how it accomplishes the goals to help all our Salt Lake County residents be successful.
Part of solving the homelessness crisis also must include affordable housing. Far too many county residents can’t find suitable housing that they can afford, while struggling to make ends meet. Currently, community reinvestment projects must set aside 10 percent of their budget to go toward affordable housing. This is a helpful funding stream that shouldn’t be taken away without a suitable replacement source of funding.
The best way to address the homeless issue is a combination of law enforcement response to the criminal element (specifically targeting the drug trade), short-term resources for housing and other immediate services so families no longer have to live on the streets, and longer term jobs, education and training options so they have the skills and resources to become self-sufficient. These long-term resources will naturally have to include affordable housing as a key component. I look forward to the work of our legislators to move these goals forward this session.
Last year the County Council approved my proposal to launch the Salt Lake County Intergenerational Poverty Task Force to look at ways to increase access to opportunity for those residents who are struggling the most to make ends meet. I’m hopeful that legislation this session will move us closer to accomplishing the goal of expanded opportunity, upward mobility, and empowering impoverished Utahns with the tools to earn their success and climb out of poverty.
Lastly, I’m encouraged by Governor Gary Herbert’s recent creation of the youth suicide task force. I’ve written in detail about this issue before, as it touches many of us personally, and all too painfully. I hope that with more efforts as a community, we can increasingly convey hope and help to each and every teen who may be struggling.
I’ll continue fighting for better resources, like the wildly successful SafeUT app, and the proposed three digit crisis line, to help our teens overcome any mental health crises they face, and take a step forward into a life filled with more happiness and hope. We owe this to our children.
These issues are often weighty and difficult to fix. But that doesn’t dampen my enthusiasm for the good work done by so many in Utah who serve in state, county, and city leadership roles. I look forward to the tremendous progress we can make as we work together as Utahns in the coming year.
Aimee Winder Newton
Aimee Winder Newton has served since 2014 and represents Taylorsville, Murray, West Jordan, and West Valley City on the Salt Lake County Council. She was a former 2020 Republican candidate for Utah Governor and was the first woman elected as chair of the Council. Aimee works tirelessly to defend the quality of life in Salt Lake County while protecting tax dollars... [read more]
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aimee winder newton: County Council district 3