PORTLAND, Ore. – The man credited with helping to end chronic homelessness in Utah spoke is urging Portland leaders to follow his lead.

Lloyd Pendleton, the former director of the Utah Homeless Task Force, spoke Wednesday at a packed breakfast hosted by the Portland Business Alliance at the Sentinel Hotel. City leaders, including mayoral candidate Ted Wheeler and transportation commissioner Steve Novick, attended the event.

Pendleton was employed by the Mormon Church in Salt Lake City in 2005 when he had a chance meeting with a psychologist who had implemented a housing program for hundreds of chronically homeless people in New York City.

Instead of requiring people to be sober, the program provided free housing, therapy and health care. After five years, 88 percent of the formerly homeless people were still in their homes. The city saved money through the program due to lower jail and hospital fees.

Pendleton said his outlook on the homeless was flipped.

"I used to say, ‘Get a job, you lazy bums,'" he admitted. But when he heard about the program's success he thought, if New York City can do that, why can't Salt Lake?

In 2006, he implemented a similar program in Utah on a larger scale. Now, he says 91 percent of the state's chronically homeless population has been housed.

Pendleton explained the program was implemented quickly by asking a dozen landlords to accept homeless people with Section 8 vouchers, which use federal funds to pay for market-rate rents. The state also converted old hotels into apartments.

With funding support from the LDS church, the formerly homeless were given home furnishings, as well as a case worker.

Pendleton said as the program grew, it freed up space at homeless shelters, which helped get others off the streets. He admitted some chose to stay in tent camps, but those camps are no longer visible in downtown Salt Lake.

As for the formerly homeless, many are sober and some are working regular jobs – something that likely wouldn't have happened if they were still on the streets.

Could Portland end homelessness?

During the Wednesday event, city leaders asked whether Portland's unique housing situation presents a more challenging battle.

Oregon has more than 12,000 homeless people and 50 percent of those are unsheltered, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

In Utah, there are about 3,000 homeless people.   

Click for interactive map 

Portland recently declared a State of Emergency for housing and homelessness. The mayor plans to add more emergency shelters for the city's homeless population by the end of the year. But permanent affordable housing takes longer to build, and there aren't enough projects under construction to house everyone who needs an affordable home.

In addition, the housing authority has a limited number of Section 8 vouchers to give out.

"It's choosing to solve one problem over another," said Jes Larson, director of the housing advocacy group Welcome Home Coalition.

Salt Lake City also had a wealthy supporter in the Mormon Church. Portland, which is one of the least-religious cities in the country, doesn't have that religious powerhouse in its backyard.  

"The LDS Church is the 500-pound gorilla in Utah," Pendleton said. "Faith groups are vital."

Pendleton said Portland needs to find other advocates for financial support.

The bottom line, he said, is that Portland needs to act as soon as possible and take on the housing issue one step at a time.

"We're not trying to solve poverty," he said. "We're trying to get people housed."