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Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Crossroads Urban Center in Salt Lake City is pictured on Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2017.

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah women with children who are homeless or at high risk of homelessness report having trouble locating affordable housing and have little access to child care services, according to a survey organized by the Urban Crossroads Center.

The organization, a social services nonprofit that runs a food pantry and thrift store, contracted with former Salt Lake City Councilwoman Deeda Seed to carry out a study examining the needs of those women. Beginning in September, Seed interviewed 77 women, who have a combined 202 children, about their needs and their perceptions of what services were available to them. The results were released Wednesday.

Seventy-nine percent of them reported having trouble getting into low-income housing, regardless of what other services they were receiving at homeless shelters, Seed said.

"Case managers only have so much to offer, and that affordable housing piece, and that living wage piece, and that child care piece, and that transportation piece, they’re still missing," she said. "So our (new shelters) model needs some resources or we’re going to have ...a burgeoning disaster with more and more families crammed into limited shelters or motel rooms."

The data suggests that many other families are also at high risk of becoming homeless if faced with other financial setbacks, according to Seed.

"The economic prosperity we are experiencing in Utah has had profound repercussions on our affordable housing market," she said.

Fair-market rent for a two bedroom unit in the Salt Lake area is estimated at $990 per month, she said, and cited a 2017 Cushman & Wakfield real estate analysis estimating the rental vacancy rate is 2.6 percent, its lowest in 16 years.

"The diminishing supply and the rising rents that we have are making people in our communities more vulnerable to homelessness and causing (people) to stay homeless longer," Seed said.

The report also cited state Department of Workforce Services data saying that, of 1,966 Utah families who received homelessness-related services in 2016, 1,389 of them — more than 70 percent — were led by a single mother.

Other notable statistics from the report included findings that 66 percent of interviewed women said they were victims of domestic violence, 22 percent had no financial income whatsoever and 78 percent had no access to transportation.

Thirty-three of the women interviewed live at the Midvale Family Shelter; 20 of them were staying at a YWCA shelter for victims of domestic violence; 12 were living at Palmer Court, a permanent assistive-housing complex; and 12 were either "couch surfing" with friends and loved ones or living in their car. Their average age was 33.

The research was funded by United Methodist Women's 2017 Call to Prayer and Self Denial initiative. Rev. Elizabeth McVicker, pastor of both First United Methodist Church and Centenary United Methodist Church in Salt Lake City, said "we get numb" to homelesseness

"But ... the United Methodist Church is engaged in these ministries because we believe that God commands us to do so. ... We believe that God sent Jesus Christ specifically to the world for the poor and the oppressed," Rev. McVicker told reporters.

She later added, "we have the capacity to eliminate poverty in our lifetimes, we only need the will."

Need for child care

Of 62 moms surveyed who had children under the age of 12, 85 percent of them "didn't have access to child care," according to the report. Seed criticized the state's job search child care assistance program, saying it's too difficult for mothers who don't already have a job to access benefits.

Seed said no woman working her way out of poverty should be required "to leave their children home alone so they can go work a $10-an-hour job."

"Child care is a tool that these moms need to improve their economic security," she said.

Seed also said there is no child care at the Road Home shelter for families in Midvale, adding "it's very stressful, there are children running everywhere."

"It would be a very good investment on our part to provide that," she said.

Efforts to reach Matt Minkevitch, executive director of the Road Home, were unsuccessful Wednesday.

Another shelter?

The report recommended that another family shelter be established, "following the model developed in Midvale, (but) with the addition of on-site child care."

Glenn Bailey, executive director of the Crossroads Urban Center, said he grew alarmed when the initially four proposed shelters to replace the Road Home downtown was reduced to three — with the facility for families eliminated.

Without those beds, Bailey said, he fears there will not be enough space for families in need.

"We still need that shelter," he said. "The new system is not going to solve the problem. In fact, we’re going to spend tens of millions of dollars to make the problem worse."

Bailey, Seed and Rev. McVicker each said policymakers should seriously consider converting the downtown Road Home shelter into a facility for families, once its current role ends in 2019.

"Nobody is willing to revisit that, which puzzles me," Rev. McVicker said.

According to Seed, "this needs to be revisited if we're going to provide shelter for homeless mothers and their children, that's really the bottom line."

Alyson Heyrend, spokeswoman for Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams' office, said any re-consideration of the Road Home's repurposing would "require new legislation" from state lawmakers. As part of legislators' appropriation for the new shelters, she said, "they also said that a condition of the funding was that the Road Home would be closed."

"So to change that would require legislative action," Heyrend said.

Heyrend said the state and county decided to invest more financial resources into the Midvale center, with the idea that "with some additional support for staffing, and some additional upgrades to the facility, they could make that work going forward."

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Preston Cochrane, executive director of Shelter the Homeless, a nonprofit board that will oversee the shelters, said he would be happy to have Seed talk to the group's board "so we can ask her questions and compare her findings with what we've looked at."

Cochrane expressed optimism that the Midvale shelter will be able to handle what comes its way, particularly in light of stakeholders' priority of keeping families' periods of homelessness as short as possible.

"We looked at the capacity issues and are constantly monitoring (it) and are relying on our partners to keep us informed," Cochrane said. "I would say that we definitely have confidence in our ability to manage the capacity going forward."