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Polygamous sect members move — when they can find a home and the cash

First Published      Last Updated May 30 2017 09:41 am


Worries plague displaced FLDS families as they rebuild lives, disconnected from their network.

Cedar City • Paint is peeling from the siding. The well runs dry after about three hours of use. The clothes dryer has stopped working.

Still, LeAnne Johnson is happy she and her family bought this house northwest of Cedar City three months ago. Johnson, who is a member of the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, says she, her husband and their six children were evicted three times from homes in Hildale.

"When we finally moved here, our children said, 'Are they going to evict us?' " Johnson recalled.




In interviews, FLDS members describe their search for new housing and the ways they are paying for it. They also describe navigating a more isolated existence.

"Some people are really struggling," said FLDS member Bonnie Ream, 73. "It's a tough time."

FLDS members believe in a communal form of living, and some members own construction and manufacturing businesses that have contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the church. But there's no indication the church is using those resources to help members choosing to leave Hildale and adjoining Colorado City, Ariz., collectively known as Short Creek.

Ream recently left Short Creek and moved 50 miles away to Ivins. Three of her adult grandsons work construction jobs out of state. They are paying the rent for Ream and what she said are about 15 family members — mostly her daughters and grandchildren — to live in a house.

The lease expires in August, at which point the family may seek to buy a house, Ream said.

She feels more fortunate than some in her community, or who were in her community. She has 19 children and doesn't know where all of them live. Ream said her late husband's second wife and her children still are in Short Creek but are seeking a new place to live.

One of her daughters, Lori Barlow, still lives in Colorado City but anticipates she and her family will face eviction soon. Barlow and her husband are looking for a place where they can go with their five children, 16 cows and a small flock of chickens.

They have identified a property south of Fredonia, Ariz., Barlow said, with a well but no house. They have applied for a U.S. Department of Agriculture loan. If they are accepted, Barlow said, the family will have to add a well and park a trailer on the property until they can build a home.

"It's real hard to find land with water in a short amount of time," Barlow said.

Ream still drives back to Short Creek about twice a month to visit. Monday she cared for Barlow's children while Barlow drove one of her friend's sons to Phoenix for a doctor appointment.

"We never thought it would be like this," Ream said, "where we are so scattered and fragmented as a people."

For a century, most FLDS members lived in Short Creek. Most of the homes were owned by a trust called the United Effort Plan (UEP), and church members could live in them as long as they stayed in good standing with the faith.

Utah took over the UEP in 2005 over concerns that FLDS President Warren Jeffs was mismanaging it. A judge in Salt Lake City continues to oversee the trust. The court has appointed a board of trustees to manage the UEP, and last year that panel opted to exert more control over the properties and ensure property taxes were being paid by the occupants.

FLDS members view the state takeover as religious persecution and theft and see the trustees — many of whom are former followers of their church — as apostates. Most members are opting to leave Short Creek rather than sign agreements and pay $100 a month to live in the UEP homes. FLDS members who refuse to comply face eviction.

It's unknown how many people have left Short Creek, but FLDS members tell of fellow parishioners setting up outside Utah and Arizona, as well as in Utah towns such as Beaver, Huntington and Cedar City.

Those who have remained in Short Creek tell of bunking up with other families in UEP homes that have not yet been evicted or the few homes that have never been part of the trust. Travel trailers have sprung up throughout the community in industrial lots and backyards.

Johnson said her family members lived in a camping trailer for six weeks before finding their new home in a real estate listing. Her husband has a construction company that still is in its early stages, she said, and he needed a home with a lot big enough to store his heavy equipment. Johnson also wanted to keep some proximity to Short Creek.

It's not quite a dream home. First, the family couldn't get a loan — a complication that Johnson attributes to her husband's business not yet being prosperous. The family went with owner financing, which typically creates more long-term costs than conventional homebuying.

The house itself is two bedrooms and two bathrooms — far smaller than the three- and four-bedroom homes Johnson said they occupied in Hildale. Family members immediately renovated the basement to add a bedroom. They also added a front porch and a few other renovations before running out of money, Johnson said.

There is no carpet on top of the plywood flooring in the living room, and walls in and outside the house need painting.

The family soon discovered a more immediate problem. The well would provide water for the family of six only for about three hours at a time, Johnson said, and the water that does come is brown.

The family has a 500-gallon tank on a trailer that it tows to Cedar City to fill.

Educating and caring for her children have been other newfound chores. For two months, Johnson drove her children 75 minutes each way to Short Creek for school four days a week. School let out for the summer in mid-May.

A few days after that, Johnson wanted to take a two-day Microsoft Excel class in St. George. The morning the class began, she left Cedar City early and drove herself and her youngest five children the extra distance to Short Creek, where their grandfather could watch them. Johnson and the children stayed the night in Short Creek. After the last class, she drove back to Short Creek, picked up her kids and drove home to Cedar City.

Johnson isn't sure whether she'll drive her children back and forth to Short Creek every day when school resumes.

The teachers "might be evicted by then anyway," Johnson said.

ncarlisle@sltrib.com

Twitter: @natecarlisle

 

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