Utah program is a haven for homeless families

Published: Saturday, May 1 2010 12:00 a.m. MDT

Stacy Price with Haley and Shyan. The family was able to rent an apartment with help from a federally funded rehousing program.

Brian Nicholson, Deseret News

OGDEN — At age 6, Shyan Price doesn't know much about being homeless, although she's lived it. She's just excited to have started at a new school — her own school, in a neighborhood where her family lives in their own place. And she's already making friends with kids who live close by.

So she sits on the couch in her family's immaculate-but-tiny living room and shows off her terrific reading skills to a visitor while Haley, 4, and Zander, 2, make happy-kid noises nearby.

It looks like a pretty typical slice of home life except that, for this family, it hasn't been typical lately. A lost job has sent Ricky and Stacy Price and their children on an odyssey of staying with family members or a homeless shelter as he's searched for work from Evanston to Ogden but come up dry.

They would be homeless still were it not for the Homeless Prevention and Rapid Rehousing Program, funded by federal stimulus money to help people thrown into homelessness by an unexpected economic crisis or who are on the verge of losing their home.

The program is not for the chronically homeless, said Marcie Valdez, director of northern Utah's Catholic Community Services. The agency oversees the program, working closely with Weber County, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Weber Human Services, both Weber County and Ogden housing authorities, Cottages of Hope and the Utah Department of Workforce Services, among others.

Ricky Price felt desperate when he sought help first from the Bishop's Storehouse, run by the LDS Church, which also referred him to St. Anne's Center. St. Anne's gave them temporary shelter and shared case management with CCS. Ricky Price got into the rehousing program by doing whatever they asked, including an ongoing, diligent job search.

He found an apartment he figures they can afford if he finds work, then HPRRP kicked in a temporary subsidy. The program also provides skills training and intensive case management. A few weeks ago, they moved into their little two-bedroom basement apartment.

One of the best parts of the program, said Stacy Price, was having to attend a two-hour class on personal finance.

"It's stuff you maybe knew but never followed," she said, pointing proudly to a small piggy bank that's about one-fourth full of coins. They got it in the class for joining the "Utah Saves" program. Each coin they put in is a baby step toward an emergency fund. It reminds them that they believe in a bright future.

The mandatory finance class pairs staff from Bank of Utah and Cottages of Hope, which provides resources for skills training. On any Wednesday afternoon at Cottages, 2724 Washington Blvd., you'll find a dozen or so people around the table, talking about money and how to make it or use it wisely once you get it. Recently, while folks in the next room were searching online for jobs and writing resumes using a whole computer network the bank donated, the bank's Nicole Morris and Chris Swaner, Cottages' co-director, led a lively discussion about overcoming the kind of financial straits that brought the students through Cottages' door. Many different Bank of Utah employees volunteer to work in community programs such as this one, said senior vice president Scott H. Parkinson.

The past six months have been hard, but illuminating, said Ricky Price. Besides learning practical things, he's learned that people are amazingly kind. Once, while walking to the program (they don't have a car), his little family stopped under a viaduct to rest. Someone, citing concerns about the kids, called the police. The responding officer ended up giving them a lift to their appointment. Most of their furniture, said Stacy Price, was provided by employees at a Scotts Lawn Care office who informally adopted them after a chance encounter.

"So many people have helped us," said Ricky Price. "It's astonishing."

e-mail: lois@desnews.com

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