Resource center focuses on growth, progress for Provo’s homeless population

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The Food and Care Coalition offers both day and residential services to people in need. (McCall Castro)

The National Low Income Housing Coalition recorded 50,236 renter households in the Provo-Orem area between 2012 and 2016, according to the coalition’s 2018 Out of Reach report. Sixty-seven percent of all Utah renters had severe cost burden, which means more than 50 percent of the renter’s income was spent on housing and utilities costs.

“Severely cost burdened poor households are more likely than other renters to sacrifice other necessities like healthy food and healthcare to pay the rent and to experience unstable housing situations like evictions,” the NLIHC communications team said in its Utah Housing Profile

Utah ranked 26th for highest housing wage needed to afford a modest apartment in the U.S. in 2018, according to the profile.

Utah’s minimum wage is currently $7.25 which allows a person to afford a $377 per month rent while the average affordable monthly apartment cost in Provo is $499, according to the Out of Reach report.

“I think often we don’t realize there are people in need, and often they aren’t homeless people but people that are low income that don’t have the resources to pay the rent,” Provo City council member George Stewart said.

The Food and Care Coalition, located near the Provo Cemetery, began offering 38 free on-site transitional housing units in 2014 to combat the lack of affordable Provo housing. Clients must prove they are in need of housing when they apply for the units, according to Food and Care Coalition Executive Director Brent Crane.

Executive director Brent Crane explains the volunteer opportunities at the Food and Care Coalition. (McCall Castro)

“Currently our community is experiencing a severe housing crisis, particularly as it relates to affordable housing for persons with limited incomes and special needs,” Crane said. “When we first moved in here, we obviously had all the beds available. Now most of those beds are occupied.”

The problem, Crane explained, is that the fair market housing in Provo only caters to two groups: single family homes and student housing. For those who are not students, it’s difficult to find an apartment for a reasonable price.

In November 2018, the Food and Care Coalition proposed a new project to build 72 low-cost one-bedroom housing units on its property. Provo City approved the project, which will begin construction the spring, according to Crane.

Not only would the new units provide more low-income housing, but they would also offset the costs of maintaining the Food and Care Coalition and help it become less dependent on grants and donations, coalition board member Kristin Brown said.

Donations often come in the form of volunteer service, and the opportunities to volunteer are diverse, according to Crane.

Items like blankets and sleeping bags are kept in storage rooms at the coalition and collected through donations. (McCall Castro)

“We see 7,500 to 10,000 unique volunteers come through here per year providing about 50,000 volunteer service hours,” Crane said.

The services offered are both day and residential. Day services are free and available to anyone who walks in and include things like access to laundry machines, showers and meals, Crane said.

Kitchen services make up at least one-third of the volunteer hours since the coalition offers three square meals a day, seven days a week to anyone who walks in, Crane said.  

Residential services are part of the transitional housing program. Those participating in the program can benefit from on-site medical, dental, substance abuse and counseling services provided by Mountainlands Community Health Center, which partners with the coalition, according to the coalition’s website.

“What we are trying to do is coalesce many opportunities,” Crane said. “This facility represents a collaborative effort. We invited other partners to extend the services to our clients in an environment where they feel comfortable.”

To receive these services, the local coalition requires that clients give back. Crane explained clients must bank service hours to receive services, like dental work, for free.

“We try to instill in the client that this is a privilege. We would love for them to be a participant as opposed to a bystander in the process,” Crane said.

Some volunteers teach weekly classes for clients that cover topics like English as a second language, citizenship, value-based living and nutrition.

Ruel Hammond, a teacher at American Heritage School in American Fork, teaches an eight-week course the Food and Care Coalition that focuses on teaching rights and virtues such as humility, life and trust at the coalition, according to Hammond.  

“My goal is to try to reach those who will listen and would like to be inspired,” Hammond said.

Clients can participate in classes regarding healthy living and buying and making nutritional meals on a budget. BYU students often teach these classes.

BYU nutrition professor Rickelle Richards has her students work in teams to create and implement a semester project that would benefit the clients at various community agencies. One of these agencies is the Food and Care Coalition.

While students have chosen to teach classes for clients, many have done other projects like compiling budget-friendly cookbooks, revamping volunteer food safety training and creating nutrition resource guides, Richards said.

“(Crane’s) model at the Food and Care Coalition is incredible. He brings in so many partners to help clients to get back on their feet and be able to have success in getting jobs and housing. He’s about empowering people to empower themselves,” Richards said.

Crane, his staff and coalition partners try to give their clients opportunities that will help them grow and escape poverty and homelessness.  

“The beauty of what I see (at the coalition) is there is a strong expectation of making progress,” Hammond said. “It’s not about dependency, it’s about empowerment.”

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