Housing problems closing doors for some Provo resi

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    By KIM KUMMER

    Utah County has more shelters to house homeless animals then it does homeless human beings.

    Until about three weeks ago, Regina, 70, was sleeping between buildings or under a bridge.

    There are two animal shelters in Utah County, but no facility to take people like Regina in from the dangers of the street and the elements.

    Todd, 38, and a friend met Regina at the Food and Care Coalition in downtown Provo. It is the only place in Utah County that serves hot meals to the poor. The two men took Regina into the only home they had — a camp under a bridge.

    “I literally had her out at my camp to protect her because she didn’t know how to stay outside,” Todd said. “My friend and I taught her how to survive.”

    Regina stayed with the men for almost two months.

    Regina is only one of an increasing group of people who are finding themselves on the streets.

    “People perceive (homelessness) to be a transient, mobile problem,” said Brent Crane, executive director of the Food and Care Coalition.

    In reality, only about 10 to 15 percent of the clients that the coalition serves are transients, Crane said. The remainder are locals.

    In 1996, the coalition provided 57,709 meals, as well as laundry and bathing facilities, transportation, public education, haircuts, clothing and a mentoring program for its clients.

    The coalition’s budget provides $25,000 to $30,000 annually for housing. It provides vouchers for housing at local motels and apartments, but getting these clients into a permanent facility is more economically feasible then providing nightly fees at a local motel, Crane said.

    The funding is inadequate for the increasing numbers of homeless. Regina was one of the lucky ones, Crane said. She was finally placed in an apartment.

    According to the National Coalition for the Homeless Internet site at nch.ari.net, two trends are largely responsible for the rise in homelessness over the past 15 to 20 years: a growing shortage of affordable housing and a simultaneous increase in poverty.

    In 1996, 36.5 million Americans lived in poverty. Forty percent of those living in poverty were children, according to the national coalition.

    For an increasing number of Americans, work does not provide an escape from poverty. In the median state, a minimum-wage workers would have to work 83 hours each week to afford a two-bedroom apartment at 30 percent of their income, which is the federal definition of affordable housing.

    A U.S. Conference of Mayors’ survey of the homeless in 29 cities revealed that one in five homeless persons is employed in full- or part-time work.

    Between 1973 and 1993, 2.2 million low-rent units disappeared from the market. During the same period, low-income renters increased by 4.7 million, according to the survey. The resulting shortage of affordable housing units is the largest on record, creating a housing crisis for the poor.

    Demolishing single-room occupancy housing also severely affects the homeless.

    The survey indicated that people waited an average of 19 months to receive assistance for public housing. The average wait for Section 8 housing certificates was 31 months. Section 8 is a program that offers vouchers to individuals to help pay rent for housing offered in the private sector.

    Statistics from the Provo City Website (www.provo.com) indicate that the rental vacancy rate for Provo is less then 2 percent. The average one-bedroom unit rents for $460, and the average two-bedroom unit is $550.

    According to the Utah Issues Information Program Web site at www.xmission.com, 21,545 Utah families were on waiting lists for public housing in January 1996.

    The largest federal housing assistance program is the deduction of mortgage interest from income for tax purposes. For every $1 spent on low-income housing programs, the federal treasury loses $4 to housing-related tax expenditures, 75 percent of which benefits households in the top fifth of income distribution.

    In 1996, the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ survey of the homeless in 29 cities found that children under the age of 18 account for 27 percent of the homeless. At 40 percent, families with children are currently the fastest growing group of the homeless population.

    About 6 percent of homeless people have mental illness that would require institutionalization. However, most of the homeless population can live in the community with appropriate housing.

    Of the 5.3 million households identified by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development as having “worst-case housing needs,” 1.2 million are headed by an elderly person.

    Most older homeless people are entitled to Social Security benefits, but the complicated application process is difficult for some. Those who do obtain assistance often find the income inadequate to cover housing costs and other necessary living expenses.

    “You’ve got to let everything go if you want to get a room,” Todd said.

    He ended up on the street for the second time in his life when his car broke down on the way to Arizona. He had no money to fix it, and he had to abandon it. He hops on freight trains to get around, and he said that once he went three weeks without a meal.

    Even if a homeless person does get a job, he or she might make $40 a day, Todd said. The cheapest motels in Provo are $30 to $32.50, which doesn’t leave much for clothes, transportation, food, medicine and other necessities.

    “The jobs are out there, but you can’t go in there looking like this, … and I could be the best man for the job,” Todd said.

    The homeless situation is a complicated one that is not going to go away on its own, Crane said.

    “It’s one of those things that has just quietly been pushed under the rug,” he said.

    “None of the people we’ve dealt with are hardened criminals,” Crane said. “Even the alcoholic bum is worth as much as I am in God’s eyes. … I’m a beggar, just like he is.”

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