Utah faith leaders and public officials look for solutions to end child homelessness

(Leah Hogsten | Tribune file photo) In this Sept. 17, 2019, file photo, construction crews work at the site of Liberty Townhouse Apartments located at 500 South and 700 East.

Religious leaders, elected officials, and housing authority directors are trying to raise awareness of child homelessness and pressing legislators to support a bill designed to make Utah housing more affordable.

“The reason we focus on child homelessness is because that is a part of the story that people don’t always pay attention to,” said Bill Tibbitts with Crossroads Urban Center. He said the first year of life is the time when a person in the United States is most likely to become homeless. This is because families living paycheck to paycheck struggle to cover new bills when a child is born.

“It’s critical that we let our elected officials know how pressing this issue is,” said Weber Housing Authority Executive Director Andrea Beadles.

Beadles said Weber County has a growing number of homeless individuals. From 2014-2017, the county’s homeless population increased by 48%. Of those, 30% are households with families. Beadles said the Lantern House — the primary homeless shelter for Ogden City — is at capacity for their family rooms.

“They have families that are doubled and tripled up because there’s just no room. Obviously they will never turn a family away, but then they’re sleeping on the floor in the kitchen, which is just not ideal at all.”

She said most of the state’s resources have been focused on helping homeless people in Salt Lake County, but programs in Weber County need resources, too. “Housing affordability is something that affects all of us. Housing affordability leads to stable homes for children.”

Beadles said the lack of affordable housing makes it hard to move homeless people out of the system. “Our shelters are at capacity but then there’s no affordable housing to move them into. It just creates strain on all of our systems.”

Like other housing advocates and public officials who raised their voices at the state Capitol this week, Beadles hopes the Legislature will support Sen. Jacob Anderegg’s bill that could potentially make housing more affordable for 5,000-7,000 families in Utah.

Anderegg is sponsoring SB39, which would make “two small policy adjustments and one big financial request.” One of the policy adjustments would expand the businesses eligible for low income tax credits.

The bill also asks the Legislature for $35 million, $15 million to be used to provide more financing to developers, which could help build around 2,100 units of affordable housing. The money would also be used to match $5 million for developers that build affordable housing or who build along a transit corridor.

“The two aspects of housing affordability that are killing low-income people are how much per month are they spending on their housing [and] how much money per month are they spending on transportation,” said Anderegg.

He wants the Legislature to designate $15 million every year for rental assistance. Anderegg said this money could help up to 3,000 families.

Anderegg said he knows it’s going to be hard to get the money this year. “The overarching issue we’re facing on all of our bills this year that have money requests... is that our general fund is a shrinking fund.”

Bill Tibbitts said this bill would help a lot of low income families. “The state estimates there are about 45,000 low-income families that can’t afford to pay the rent — this would be a huge step toward addressing that problem. It would the biggest step the state of Utah has ever taken.”