SALT LAKE CITY - Sunrise Metro Apartments has given many of the city’s longtime homeless residents a place to call home. It has also given Utah the first development of its kind.

Sunrise Metro is the first project in the state to implement the “Housing First” model in a permanent supportive-housing setting of its size.

“Our chronic homeless are difficult to reach as clients,” said Bill Nighswonger, executive director of the Housing Authority of Salt Lake City. “Many have been on the streets for a long time. We wanted to help a segment of the population that we know use the shelter services frequently.”

The chronic homeless are also often treated in emergency rooms or taken to jail, both of which are costly, he said, noting studies that have found it is cheaper to put people in housing than it is to leave them on the streets.

In the Salt Lake area, more than 2,500 people are homeless on any given night. Across the state, it is estimated that 4,000 people are homeless each night. Building Sunrise Metro is consistent with the state’s and Salt Lake County’s 10-year plans to end chronic homelessness.

The 100-unit development follows the “Housing First” approach to ending homelessness. In general, the strategy calls for getting people into permanent housing as quickly as possible. The idea is that once a person’s housing needs are taken care of, he or she is then in a better position to get the social services and other programs they may need.

Two of the building’s four floors are designated as “dry” areas, meaning no alcohol or drugs are allowed. On the other two floors, residents can drink in their rooms but not in the common areas. More people were interested in the dry floors, said Nighswonger.

The housing authority is pleased with how the project is performing. It was fully occupied after three months. Some residents have moved out, but no one had been evicted after eight months of operations. Nighswonger takes that as a sign that people want to stay.

The development has both one-bedroom and studio units that have bathrooms and full kitchens. Twenty units are wheelchair- accessible. Many of the residents are older veterans with disabilities. The residents have ranged in age from their late 20s into their 70s. Just a handful of the residents are women.

The development has four case workers. Two are from the housing authority, and the other two come from Volunteers of America and The Road Home, which offers emergency shelter as well as other housing programs in the city. On a November night, The Road Home housed 890 people at three shelters.

A good number of Sunrise Metro’s residents have come from the shelters.

In the days leading up to the development’s opening, Matthew Minkevitch, executive director of The Road Home, spoke with many of the soon-to-be residents. “Each individual knew not just the address but his room number, which way the windows faced, and the day they were scheduled to move in,” he said. “The hallways at the shelter were filled with hope.”

Residents pay 30 percent of their income toward rent. Approximately 70 of the units have Sec. 8 project-based vouchers.

More to come

Being the first development of its kind in the state, Sunrise Metro faced some opposition.

“Local businesses nearby called, and we had some discussions with them,” said Nighswonger.

The housing authority gave the business owners assurances that it was bringing something new to the area and the development would have plenty of lighting and security. The project has on-site security personnel as well as cameras both inside and outside of the building.

The financing of the development began with two $600,000 donations, one from the George S. and Delores Dore Eccles Foundation and the other from Crusade for the Local Homeless, which is headed by local philanthropist Jack Gallivan.

The bulk of the money, about $6 million, then came from low-income housing tax credits allocated by the Utah Housing Corp. and syndicated by Enterprise Community Investment, Inc. The investor was American Express Centurion Bank.

Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County, the state of Utah, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Veterans Affairs, UBS, Zion’s Bank, local churches, and others also made contributions.

In many ways, Sunrise Metro is a stepping stone, not only for the residents but also for affordable housing providers. The Housing Authority of the County of Salt Lake is developing an 84-unit permanent supportive-housing project, which is scheduled to open in 2008. The Road Home is also preparing to build a 201-unit project in 2008, and the Housing Authority of Salt Lake City wants to build another facility within the next five years.

“We’re going to make a dent in the chronic homeless problem,” said Nighswonger.