Utah is tackling homelessness with a simple tactic: giving people homes.
"We call it housing first, employment second," Lloyd Pendleton, director of Utah's Homeless Task Force, told NBC News.
At first, Pendleton wasn’t sold on the idea. "I said: 'You guys must be smoking something. This is totally unrealistic.’”
In 2005, 1,932 people in Utah were chronically homeless, meaning they'd been living on the streets for over a year, or on four separate occasions within three years, and had a debilitating condition.
As of April 2015, there were 178.
"It's a philosophical shift in how we go about it," Pendleton said. "You put them in housing first ... and then help them begin to deal with the issues that caused them to be homeless."
The new program is also more cost-effective. According to the Homeless Task Force, it costs the state an avergae of $19,208 per year to care for each chronically homeless person, while housing and providing a case worker costs about $7,800.
"It's more humane, and it's cheaper," Pendleton said. "I call them 'homeless citizens.' They're part of our citizenry. They're not 'them' and 'us.' It's ‘we.’”
Finance writer James Surowiecki said the “Housing First” model works as a preventative measure that's more financially responsible. “Our system has a fundamental bias toward dealing with problems only after they happen, rather than spending up front to prevent their happening in the first place,” he wrote in The New Yorker.
Those who have received help from the new model have also sung their praises. Suzi Wright and her sons, DJ and Brian, were homeless in the Salt Lake City area for six years, moving between friends' houses, homeless shelters and a van. The state helped Wright obtain a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment, and she was able to find a job as a cleaning supervisor.
"It makes you feel a lot better about yourself, just being able to support your family," Wright said.