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Homelessness Czar cites progress in Salt Lake

Robert Marbut, the newly appointed federal "homeless czar" speaks to KSL Newsradio's Boyd Matheson. (Photo credit: Colby Walker)

SALT LAKE CITY — Robert Marbut, the recently appointed “Homelessness Czar” under President Trump, is facing a big task.

After cutting his teeth while on the San Antonio City Council, he’s now the top authority on the national homelessness problem.

Visiting Salt Lake this week, he expanded on his overall vision and thoughts on local efforts while speaking on “Inside Sources” with Boyd Matheson.

Meet the Homelessness Czar

Marbut knows homelessness has long been a controversial topic in Utah and specifically in Salt Lake City.

Most recently, Mayor Erin Mendenhall designated a vacant building in the Sugarhouse neighborhood for a temporary homeless shelter.

According to Marbut, things are improving in the state.

“There’s some dramatic improvements that have occurred and things are much better,” he said.

He says one of the biggest changes is the work being done by local police. Much different than in the past, police are now enlisting the help of outside agencies to better address problems.

“Law enforcement is getting much more agile, much more nimble,” said Marbut. “Becoming multi-discipline where you go out with [a] social worker.”

The plan for resource centers in Utah has been revised. New homeless resource centers have opened in Salt Lake, while the long-standing Road Home shelter closed.

Who’s in charge?

Mayor Mendenhall has already made changes to homelessness in Salt Lake City, but she’s not the authority on the issue. In fact, Marbut says, most people don’t have an answer to that question.

“Who’s in charge? Who’s the leader? And we’re sort of getting a lot of fingers going different directions,” he said.

While Marbut is encouraged by some of the procedural changes, he says more changes may be needed because the data doesn’t yet show progress.

“So if the model’s right and you’re increasing money, then the numbers should be going down,” he said. “And that’s just not happening.”

Marbut succeeded Matthew Doherty as leader of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness in December 2019.