A crisis looms for Utah homeless moms and children, report says

The Crossroads Urban Center wants to convert the doomed downtown shelter, but that may be a political bridge too far.<br>

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) Crossroads Urban Center wants to remake the troubled Road Home shelter, pictured in this December 13, 2016, file photo, in downtown Salt Lake City into a family facility.

Seeing a crisis brewing for homeless single mothers and their children, Crossroads Urban Center is calling to remake the troubled Road Home shelter downtown into a family facility.

The aging and much-maligned shelter is scheduled to be closed by June 30, 2019.

But with a newly minted report that reveals women and their children are facing growing barriers to finding housing due to rising rents, low wages and a lack of child care, officials of the nonprofit that serves the impoverished said Wednesday that more shelter space is a necessity.

“It’s a humanitarian catastrophe in the making,” said Crossroads spokeswoman Deeda Seed.

Not everyone agrees. Preston Cochrane, the incoming executive director of Shelter the Homeless, the nonprofit agency that owns and operates the shelters in the Salt Lake City metro area, said planners have considered capacity issues to ensure there is enough to meet demand.

But Cochrane noted that he would invite Crossroads to show its findings to the Shelter the Homeless board of directors. “We want to make sure everyone has a roof over their head,” he said.

Nonetheless, the Midvale Family Shelter — the sole facility serving families — is at its capacity of 300, and there are no new family shelters in the works. Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County, with the aid of state funding, are in the process of creating three new homeless shelters/resource centers: one for men, one for women, and one that will house men and women.

Despite years of planning and millions of dollars allocated, homeless single moms and their kids in Salt Lake County face a shortage of shelter beds, according to the Crossroads report that was based on interviews with 77 women with children who are homeless or have recently been homeless.

The upshot of the issues facing mothers and children, Seed explained, is that they are stuck for longer periods at the shelter, leaving little room for those, who, for a variety of issues, are newly falling into homelessness. Of those surveyed, 66 percent were victims of domestic violence.

These are among the findings: 79 percent had problems finding affordable housing; 85 percent didn’t have access to child care; 70 percent didn’t have a job; and 78 percent had no access to transportation.

But the political winds have been howling to shutter the shelter at 210 S. Rio Grande St. for years and never more than this past summer, when House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, spearheaded Operation Rio Grande, which sought to take back the area from a criminal element that included drug dealers and their clients.

Organizations with business ties, such as the Downtown Alliance and the Pioneer Park Coalition, have made a full-court press for the closure of The Road Home — which can house up to 1,100 people — and city, county and state leaders have signed on.

Mothers and children were moved out of that facility earlier this year — due to violence and drug dealing — before the Aug. 14 onset of Operation Rio Grande.

Janell Fluckiger, the outgoing executive director of Shelter the Homeless, said the community has decided that rather than investing in additional shelters for children, it would seek to put more resources toward getting those youths and their mothers into permanent housing.

“Homeless shelters are not the solution for kids,” she said.

Presently, families that can’t find room at the shelter have been given motel vouchers as a stopgap to keep them housed. But according to the Crossroads report, the high-cost alternative can cause psychological and sometimes physical damage to children.

“Often, the motels that will accept lower-than-market payments are those which offer few, if any, security measures,” the report said.

Crossroads also found fault with the Rapid Rehousing program underwritten by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that is administered locally by The Road Home. It typically pays for a deposit and three months’ rent.

“Many were placed in the Rapid Rehousing program,” the report said, “but when the help ended after three months, [they] did not have the income to continue paying rent and were evicted.”

Seed acknowledged that it will be a challenge to persuade community and political leaders to revisit the decision to close the downtown shelter.