Officials trying to fight homeless problems in Utah County are facing two nearly insurmountable obstacles - the county's much-documented housing shortage and the addition of low-income families to the homeless ranks.

Various Utah County agencies, including the Food and Shelter Coalition, 55 W. 200 North, and Community Action Agency, 257 E. Center, No. 201A, provide services to help both transients and the newly homeless. During 1990 alone, officials at both say they've seen as much as a 250 percent increase in the numbers of transients and homeless coming in for services, and the numbers are growing, while housing availability keeps shrinking.For example, the coalition's sack-lunch and hot-meals program averaged between 30 and 35 people per meal during the past four years. However, those numbers have swelled to 57 at one particular regular meal this year, and almost 300 people partook of the coalition's annual Thanksgiving Day dinner, director Marilee Shelton said.

The numbers are similar at Community Action Agency, where resident homeless and the newly evicted can receive services such as gas and food vouchers as well as temporary shelter. Director Myla Dutton said this year alone the agency has seen an almost 200 percent increase in homeless families.

Dutton said her organization realizes that local landlords have actually kept rental prices down for the past few years, but a sudden increase in rents during August and September has pushed some lower-income families into friends' and families' houses or even into the streets.

"Some families can no longer afford the places they've been living, but when they try to find a new place they realize there are no lower-priced apartments around."

Aggravating the situation is the sudden influx of transients from Salt Lake City and Ogden, where shelters are already overflowing, Dutton said, especially since many of them are not planning on being long-term residents.

"It may be that in other surrounding states word has gotten out that Salt Lake simply has more services to offer," Dutton said.

"However, when they get there, the shelters are full and they have nowhere to go but south. It's a double-edged sword because people hear about all the services, and that almost creates a need."

Additionally, both women said violence at northern shelters, as well as the advent of bitter winter weather, may be pushing the homeless toward the county, which is already bursting at the seams in its temporary shelters.

"Typically around this time of year we see an increase in the number of homeless in the area," Dutton said. "With things being the way they are right now, that could be disastrous."

For the foreseeable future, the problem could continue to worsen because of new industry, which either brings in new families or provides long-term employment opportunity for students who remain in the area instead of flying north or south for the summer, Shelton said.

"East and south, there simply are no jobs. There are a lot of better-paying jobs here, but there's no room for the employees. On one hand, it's a good situation because this helps out the local economy, but on the other, it's illustrating just how severe this problem is."

Among CAA's current services is "reality therapy" counseling, in which Dutton said several individuals and even families are being told that settling in Utah County may not be possible.

"They've got to look at the picture realistically, and it's just not pretty. Also, while some families are able to settle in southern Salt Lake County, there's only so much housing there, which could create another shortage."

Both admitted that solutions to the problem are long-term, such as building new housing, and that their services are of a somewhat short-term nature.

"They may be only a stopgap, but they are humanitarian and much-needed," Shelton said. "We're here to help out in the best ways we can."

In the meantime, both organizations will continue their services. Those interested in those services or volunteering help can contact either CAA at 373-8200 or the coalition at 373-1825 Monday through Friday between 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. After hours calls or requests for services should be addressed to either the Provo Police Department, 375-1831, or the Utah County Sheriff's Department, 375-3601.

*****

(Additional information)

Local resources for the homeless

Transients (after hours, contact either Provo Police or Utah County Sheriff's Department):

- Office of Community Operations, 150 E. Center, Provo, 374-7800. Mondays through Fridays, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Offers single-night emergency shelter, food vouchers, bus tickets or gas vouchers and work and training opportunities.

- Food and Shelter Coalition, 55 W. 200 North, Provo, 373-1825. Mondays through Fridays, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturdays, Sundays and holidays, noon to 12:30 a.m. Offers sack lunches, hot dinners and some breakfast fare, limited selection of free clothing and free laundry facilities.Residents (after hours, contact either Provo Police or Utah County Sheriff's Department):

- Community Action Agency, 257 E. Center No. 201A, Provo, 373-8200. Mondays through Fridays, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Offers emergency shelter, possible emergency rental assistance, landlord negotiation, food bank and gas vouchers.

- Housing Authority of Utah County, 257 E. Center No. 100, Provo, 373-8333. Mondays through Fridays, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Offers waiting lists for those unable to find housing through other agencies, which can result in receiving assistance in as short a time as 30 days.

- Utah Rural Development Corp., 1600 N. 550 West, Provo, 375-3973, Mondays through Fridays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Offers emergency shelter, food and gas vouchers, as well as a medical clinic, to migrant and seasonal workers.

- Office of Community Operations. Some assistance with emergency rental or emergency mortgages, as well as some shelter, can be provided; emergency food vouchers are also available.

- - Food and Shelter Coalition. Same services provided to residents as transients.