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Raise the Roof

Also: Helping Hands, Cry Wolf

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Raise the Roof
Utahns could hardly believe their ears: Utah was being praised instead of ridiculed in the national news. NPR's Diane Rehm was interviewing Dr. Robert Okin, a psychiatrist who spent two years on the streets of San Francisco, about mental illness and homelessness. Utah, Okin said, is an example of a state that has helped the mentally ill with housing and changed the outcomes. Okin said that mentally ill homeless are largely stigmatized, and there's generally no political will to change things. In Utah, however, a federal program called Housing First provides housing to chronically homeless people without first requiring sobriety. As a result, Utah saw a decrease of 70 percent in its chronically homeless population. Best yet, some 90 percent of those housed remained in their homes where they could better manage medications and other lifestyle challenges.

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Helping Hands
While Utah families were huddled inside against the cold and wind, hundreds of homeless people were wandering the streets, not necessarily seeking shelter. That's where the Street Engagement Team—the outreach work of Volunteers of America Utah and The Road Home, housed at the Fourth Street Clinic—comes in. A Deseret News story chronicled the efforts of the group to provide blankets, food and medical advice to those who feared the shelters or simply didn't know how to navigate the streets. Countywide, it's estimated that 200 homeless simply refuse to move inside. And that creates a challenge in freezing temperatures. One young man who'd aged out of foster care was taken to a hospital where his toes likely would be amputated. But for the help of the team, many could die on the streets.

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Cry Wolf
What good is an endangered designation if there's really no protection? There has been no official response to the so-called "mistaken identity" shooting of a 3-year-old gray wolf in December. Hunters said they were seeking coyotes, for which there's a state bounty. Utah lawmakers are trying to de-list the wolf, for fear it will return to the state as a predator. Meanwhile, U.S. District Judge Dee Benson struck down an endangered-species application for a prairie dog whose habitat is solely in Utah. His ruling could significantly narrow the reach of the Endangered Species Act because half of the designated species exist in only one state, according to the blog Law360. But given how Utah views endangered species, a law may not be necessary. Just shoot them, no penalty.

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