The Social Impact Model Mitigating Homelessness And Incarceration In Salt Lake County, Part One

By Jolyn Metro, Congressman Ben McAdams, and Luke Tuttle

In 2017, Former Utah Congressman and Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams launched Pay For Success (SDP), a social impact model that incentivizes governmental cooperation, service providers, and financial partners to solve real-time results. After about six years of working and early promising outcomes, stakeholders of the Salt Lake County SDP projects have important takeaways and insights among Utah jails and homeless populations. This is the first article in two part series examining lessons learned and recommendations for future success. Watch our contributor page for updates.

The rate of incarcerated individuals in Utah has historically been lower than the national average. So, when the state saw an 18 percent increase in its prison population between 2004 and 2014, officials were alarmed. The future trajectory looked even worse — with projections for an increase of 37 percent by 2034. Utah officials began studying what was behind the numbers. Recidivism stood out. A 2014 review by the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice found that 82 percent of the state’s high-risk offenders typically returned to prison within a year of their release.

Many county jail inmates were not hardened criminals. The Salt Lake County jail, Utah’s largest, housed About half the county’s persistently homeless population and these individuals cycled in and out of jail. To solve recidivism required addressing homelessness. Both issues were complicated, entrenched problems, and reducing both would be costly. Doing nothing, however, would cost significantly more. The challenge was how to find, validate, and pay for solutions. Salt Lake County’s innovative answer was to launch “Pay for Success” (SDP) initiatives.

Government often funds social needs programs, but government expenditures are seldom tied to measurable results. SDP is a social impact model that does not just endow the private investment, but the repayment of which is contingent on the program meeting desired outcomes. This transfers the financial risk of success or failure away from taxpayers to the private providers and philanthropic funders who are best placed to take action to mitigate any risks or underperformance. Private and philanthropic investors who are motivated to provide capital for these projects are socially-minded with an interest in investing in programs that improve lives while simultaneously receiving a modest financial return. The SDP contracts incentivize collaboration between government, service providers, and financial partners to solve problems and innovate in real time to achieve measurable results.

Co-author of this series, and former Congressman Ben McAdams (then Salt Lake County mayor), launched a Pay for Success portfolio in 2017 with bipartisan County Council support,. The two projects followed data and evidence that these goals are: reducing recidivism and diverting the homeless population away from jail and into housing. These projects, scheduled for completion by the end of 2023, are the first portfolio sponsored by a US county, representing a total potential investment of $ 11.5 million. In his 2016 pitch for the project, McAdams said, “This is about improving outcomes for people who are in need and also about protecting value for taxpayers, not just because the programs don’t measure up, we don’t pay, but because it encourages investment in prevention. Just as vaccines are cheaper than treating disease, housing and job training cost less than jail. ”

It takes considerable time, money, discipline, collaboration, commitment, and a fair amount of trust to pursue the PFS model. After about six years of working and early promising outcomes, stakeholders of the Salt Lake County SDP projects have important takeaways and insights into this process that can increase the likelihood of success for these projects. One learning, highlighted in this article, is due to the long-term nature of these projects, and a high level of alignment among stakeholders is necessary to ensure adaptability to unforeseen circumstances.

Adapting to Salt Lake County’s Changing Landscape

It is difficult to anticipate a project’s life. The ability to quickly react and adapt to change, in ways that maintain the integrity of the service delivery model and the evaluation methodology, is key. Two examples of changes on the ground that the Salt Lake County projects are required to adapt midstream are Utah’s affordable housing crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Utah’s Affordable Housing Crisis

Utah’s rapid population growth and strong employment rate have strained availability and affordability, disproportionately hitting low-income residents. The National Low Income Housing Commission identified a shortage of affordable rental housing for extremely low-income renters. It was challenging to place individuals into stable housing short term. This also threatens the independent evaluation’s conclusions about whether the intervention worked. In other words, assessing how effective the program is.

With the help of public housing authorities, the HNJ service provider works directly with landlords to build relationships and promoted the benefits of participating in the HNJ program. The implementation budget includes the use of project funds, such as the granting of certain landlord fees, and

Flexible budget options ensured The Road Home could maximize the housing options, where the HNJ program results in the difficult housing landscape.

Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic interrupted and reshaped service delivery models in Utah and the US including conventional mental health and substance use disorder treatment. SDP has been designed to ensure that the service providers’ staff and program participants.

For the REACH program, COVID protocols included and total lockdown of all facilities and severely limited visitation. First step House (the REACH service provider) moved therapy sessions online and incorporated telehealth into their service model. COVID ‘s hugely disruptive nature and subsequent program of adaptations due to the residents in the residential treatment facilities. It is too early to tell how much the pandemic has affected the REACH program and its outcomes, but that it is important to the health and safety of COVID even if it is likely to be successful. outcomes.


Maintaining the status quo. However, as the Salt Lake County SDP portfolio shows, this “thinking outside the box” endeavor holds the potential for replacing the failed outcomes greater community. However, successful SDP projects are not guaranteed and this work requires a significant amount of resources. Regular communication and collaboration between all stakeholders


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