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Pandemic Brings Challenges to Homeless Services, According To A New Report

A homeless man sits next to a wall with two bags next to him
Garry Knight

A new report from public policy researchers finds that over 50% of homeless service providers are facing a variety of challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The report from the Utah Foundation, a non-partisan public policy research group, focuses on Salt Lake County homeless services providers, such as shelters, advocacy groups, and food banks. The report states that providers face a variety of challenges right now.

“One of the biggest [challenges] that organizations discuss were the health and safety of their staff,” said Shawn Teigen, head of research at the Utah Foundation. “But they also are finding an increase in demand for resources but a decrease in, or a loss of financial resources.”

He said there’s an influx of clients using homeless services, but non-profit funding from grants and donations is drying up. Many of these nonprofits also rely on volunteers, but with the threat of COVID-19, volunteers are a challenging liability. 

“So you have to be concerned with the health of your staff,” Teigen said. “And then there's just the morale of the staff in a situation like that. Like, we're out working in the community, but putting our own health and the health of our families maybe at risk in some ways.”

Teigen said he was most surprised by another finding: About 45% of the providers reported they’re somewhat worried about shutting down. 11% said their survivability was seriously challenged. Government agencies were less worried about this, but Tiegen said budget cuts within the next year could likely affect governmental homeless services. 

If providers do need to close their doors, the concern is that people experiencing homelessness will have fewer resources to turn to.