Utah kids are being turned away from shelter, as groups demand Gov. Cox take action

Utah kids are being turned away from shelter, as groups demand Gov. Cox take action

Single parents are particularly vulnerable to losing their housing as they struggle to keep up with rising rents.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Bill Tibbitts and other representatives from nonprofit groups gather at the Capitol to ask Gov. Spencer Cox to call a special legislative session to provide more motel vouchers for emergency shelter for families, on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022.

Dillon and Sarah Linck fell behind on rent and in July they were served an eviction notice.

The couple started bouncing around the Salt Lake Valley. They searched for housing but struggled to find an affordable place. Plus, landlords were wary of renting to them now, with an eviction on their record. They drained their bank accounts paying for a motel room.

By earlier this month, they shared before a news conference Thursday, the Lincks were sleeping in their truck with their three-year-old son and a six-month-old puppy.

The Coalition of Religious Communities, Unsheltered Utah and Powerful Moms Who Care called the news conference to warn they are worried about Utah’s unhoused families as temperatures now are dropping below freezing. They gathered to demand that Gov. Spencer Cox call a special session of the Legislature to address the issue.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sarah and Dillon Linck, and their son Maverick, 3, have had a struggle finding housing, on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022.

The groups specifically want lawmakers to purchase and convert a motel into a second family shelter. They also called on the Legislature to increase the funding for motel vouchers to hand out to unsheltered families this season.

The approaching cold “was the biggest thing that we were worried about,” Dillon Linck said as the couple told their story.

Sarah Linck, who is 21 weeks pregnant, finally got in touch with Wendy Garvin with Unsheltered Utah, who helped the couple find a motel room to stay in.

It’s the first time they’ve been homeless in the winter and the Lincks are not the only family struggling to find housing.

A call to action

For the first time in over twenty years, the Midvale Family Resource shelter is turning away homeless families with kids amid skyrocketing need, explained Bill Tibbitts, deputy executive director of Crossroads Urban Center.

In September alone, the shelter turned away 78 families with children, Tibbitts said.

The governor would be on the scene handing out blankets if a massive flood displaced families, Tibbitts said, and he should be there for this crisis, too. “You can’t go back and fix things after an infant freezes to death; after a baby loses a toe to frostbite,” Tibbitts said.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Bill Tibbitts, deputy executive director of Crossroads Urban Center, and other representatives from nonprofit groups gathered at the Capitol to ask Gov. Spencer Cox to call a special legislative session to provide more motel vouchers for emergency shelter for families, on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022.

The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Several lawmakers attended the conference and voiced their support for the effort, including Sen. Luz Escamilla.

Sky-rocketing need

“We’ve seen the need explode,” said Sarah Strang, deputy director of crisis services at the Road Home during a Wednesday Zoom meeting, a day before the news conference.

“To put it bluntly, we are pushed to the max every day,” agreed Tyeson Rogers, who runs the Road Home’s family street outreach team.

Single parents “simply can’t make it anymore,” he said. Already struggling to make ends meet, they have seen inflation and housing prices push their finances over the edge, he said.

Rogers said there’s been a rise of “first-time homeless families,” and “a lot of single parents with children that have not been in the system before.”

Although more unsheltered single people have had to contend with winter in Salt Lake City, the increase in families with kids seeking shelter came as a surprise, advocates said.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Wendy Garvin speaks along with other nonprofit groups at the Capitol, for a media conference, to ask Gov. Cox to call a special legislative session to provide more motel vouchers for emergency shelter for families, on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022.

Sarah Linck explained she’d been homeless once before, but losing housing in the winter with a toddler and another baby on the way was different.

“This time,” she said, “it’s hard.”

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