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Ravell Call, Deseret News
Rachel Jeffers kisses her daughter, Keiana, at The Road Home winter overflow shelter in Midvale on Monday, Oct. 1, 2012.

MIDVALE — Rachel Jeffers had hoped to avoid moving into a shelter.

A year ago, when she and her family lost their housing, they moved in with a friend. To get by, they sold their possessions one by one.

"When we lost our vehicle, it was the last straw," Jeffers said Monday during an interview at The Road Home's winter overflow shelter, "and we ended up here."

Jeffers, a mother of two with another child on the way, said she believes her stay in the shelter will be short-lived.

"I've been approved for a program that's going to help me get into a place," she said. "Hopefully, (we will be here) not more than a couple of weeks." 

Jeffers was among 62 families that moved into the overflow shelter Monday, the earliest ever opening of the overflow facility, said Matt Minkevitch, executive director of The Road Home.

"Unfortunately, this year is ahead of any year prior. We've had a three-year trend of more and more families coming to us," Minkevitch said.

The Salt Lake City nonprofit organization, which shelters and provides case management to homeless individuals and families, has served more than 700 families this year, "which is about 9 percent ahead of last year," he said.

"We're far ahead of where we used to be in the past," Minkevitch said.

Recent demand for family shelter beds has outstripped supply at The Road Home's downtown shelter, thus pushing up the opening date of the overflow shelter by almost a month.

The overflow shelter provides emergency shelter, links to employment and public assistance programs administered by the Department of Workforce Services and rapid rehousing services.

All school-age children at the shelter are bused to school, many of them remaining at the same schools they attended before moving into the shelter to prevent yet another disruption in their young lives.

"We're working diligently to help families get out of shelter as quickly as possible," Minkevitch said.

The average length of stay in the Midvale shelter is 30 to 40 days, he said.

The majority of people served by The Road Home are individuals experiencing homelessness for the first time in their lives, Minkevitch said. 

"It's very brief in duration and they move out of shelter, and they never come back," he said. "This is a brief and disappointing chapter in many people's lives, but it is brief."

That is Jeffers' hope, she said. The Midvale shelter has some advantages over the emergency shelter in downtown Salt Lake City because it is less crowded.

"Here we have a lot more space," she said, "and we have kitchen access and stuff."

Jeffers also is hoping that she and her children, 1-year-old Keiana and 3-year-old Kamden, will be able to get more rest because the schedule is less rigid than at the downtown shelter.

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Still, she worries about the strain of homelessness on her children.

"You can really tell that they know something is not quite right," Jeffers said.

While some indicators suggest the Utah and national economies are improving, Minkevitch said requests for help hit a peak in June.

"We're down from that peak. We hope that continues. It's too early to call that a trend," he said. "Hopefully this is just the tail end of the economic recovery and these are the last families to begin to benefit from it."

E-mail: marjorie@desnews.com