A nine-member homeless family featured in promotional materials to raise funds for construction of the new homeless shelter left it Tuesday, reportedly moving to a motel to follow up employment leads.

Michael and Teresa McNair told reporters Sunday they were being forced to move their seven children from the shelter in part because of criticism they have leveled at shelter policy and management.Family shelter director Donna Gebler disputes that claim. The issue, she said, is not political or philosophical, but rather policy. The homeless shelter is not a permanent residence, but a place where families can stay for up to 90 days in a six-month period while they try to regain control of their lives.

"More than 115 families have been through here since January," Gebler said, "and leaving after three months has never been an issue. This place is not the goal, but a way station where the homeless can get help."

Shelter staff, she said, worked with the couple extensively, particularly within the past month so they would have options available when their allowed time ended Monday.

"We talked repeatedly about the fact that time was running out. But they didn't even ask for an extension until 6 p.m. Monday," Gebler said. The family was allowed to stay an extra night, then left Tuesday afternoon.

"The self-sufficiency caseworker reviewed the goals in the plan we (the shelter staff and the McNairs) had agreed on. Our transitional housing coordinator personally drove them to see the housing authority in West Valley City and contacted all the other housing authorities in the area. We discussed several other options.

"Michael McNair has a Pell Grant to attend a trucking school in Texas, so we suggested they contact welfare advocates to see if Teresa could get help while he's gone. We also had a social-work intern work with the family."

The McNair family has a priority position on local subsidized housing lists, but the nine-member family needs a five-bedroom house and none are available.

Last week, Gebler wrote to the McNairs and said the shelter would provide some case worker and medical care services to the family after it leaves the shelter.

"The situation isn't as simple as it looks," she said. "We're not mean and we're not trying to hurt this family. But frankly, they've spent a lot of time writing letters and running meetings and very little trying to find jobs. There's only so much that we can do to help them. And we have 14 other families in the shelter right now."

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Suit challenges 90-day limit

A group of activists working for the homeless lodged a class-action suit in U.S. District Court on behalf of the McNairs and any others who might be forced to move from the shelter after 90 days.

The suit, filed by the Alliance for Human Dignity, named as defendant the Shelter the Homeless Committee. It points out that in November 1988 the shelter was built to house homeless men and families, and that it receives federal funds.

The 90-day limitation is unfair and unconstitutional, the suit contends. It asks that men, women and families in the shelter be allowed to stay as long as "a positive direction is taken towards a more stable and productive lifestyle."

The suit seeks $25,000 in damages, plus a temporary restraining order to allow the McNair family to stay there.