Krystina James’ path to homelessness started long before the eviction.
A Cache Valley native, she was quick to settle in the area after graduating high school and completing basic training for the Army National Guard.
She found someone, fell in love and got married.
She said it was during her pregnancy when she noticed definite signs of abuse within her relationship.
“We had gotten into an argument on — honestly, I have no idea what it was about,” James said.
“All I remember was him picking me up by my armpits and pushing me up against the bathroom door, just so frustrated, screaming at me.”
James said they soon fell into a repetitive, vicious cycle.
After leaving her bruised, aching, and heartbroken, her husband would promise to change and pledge the behavior wouldn’t happen again. James said she would believe him, he’d break his promise, and the violence would escalate.
“Simple arguments would turn into huge fights and blows to my stomach, blows to my head,” James said.
Her husband began to disappear. He would turn his cellphone off so she couldn’t reach him. When he received paychecks from his construction job, the hours didn’t add up.
“I had started noticing he wasn’t really going to work and was going and getting high,” James said. “He would be upset if I questioned him about it.”
She believed the man she married was still a good person, but habitual drug use turned her loved one into somebody else.
“Unfortunately, especially here in Logan, just getting the help that you need is hard because it’s expensive,” James said. “Nobody can afford it.”
At the time, James said there were even fewer resources pertaining to substance use.
Her husband began running into legal troubles and began spending time in jail.
Then came tragedy.
Throughout her pregnancy, James had felt unexplained pains.
Near the end of her third term, she awoke one morning unable to open her eyes. Concerned, she went to her doctor’s office. Her usual physician wasn’t working that day, and the doctor she met in his absence informed her she would not be carrying the baby full term.
At the doctor’s behest, James went to the hospital where she received a steroid shot and began a 24-hour evaluation. She went home and climbed into bed.
She woke in terrible pain. With her husband in jail, she called her sister to take her to the hospital. Upon arrival, she noticed bright spots appearing in her vision.
“It made me start crying,” she said. “They ask you that in every doctor’s appointment — are you seeing stars? So I thought something was really wrong.”
Her fearful premonition became an unforgiving reality.
Upon delivery, her son was dead. Doctors revived him and sent him to a different hospital while James recovered. For 15 days, she watched her infant on a webcam positioned toward his incubator.
Each day, James was informed she should prepare to let her son go. Eventually, she made the decision to do so.
Her husband, having been released from jail given the circumstances, accompanied her to the room where their son would draw his last breath.
“He kept getting up and going outside,” James said. “I didn’t find out ‘til later that he said he kept going outside because he couldn’t handle it.”
When the final moment came, James stood alone in the room, holding her infant tight, knowing she would never hold the living child again. It took two and a half hours for him to stop breathing. An hour and a half after that, his heartbeat ceased as well. James said she held him for an hour longer.
The echo of the tragedy would follow James and her husband for years to come. It would become the center of future fights.
“I think that caused so much argument between us,” James said, “then that made other …”
She paused to consider her next word, seemingly weighing it against the grueling events she experienced with her kids.
“… situations happen.”
James did not leave her marriage overnight.
Years had passed since she lost her first child when she began trying to separate. In that time, the couple had three more children. After her first visit to Citizens Against Physical and Sexual Abuse — a nonprofit organization based in Logan — she returned to her husband without staying in the organization’s shelter.
“People have said 1,000 times, ‘Why don’t you just pack your bags and leave?’” James said. “Unfortunately, it’s just not that easy. … It just takes us being ready to be done.”
After finding her husband’s vows of change would not be kept, she went to CAPSA a second time. This time, she took refuge in the shelter.
This was not the last time James would leave her husband. She would go back and forth between him and CAPSA several times before her ultimate decision in 2021, returning to her husband when she was without any other option.
“I realized how much it weighed on my mental health,” James said. “Here I got the courage to come up and do this, and I’m stuck.”
Eventually, James had custody of her children and was living in subsidized housing.
The bliss of the moment did not last long.
When James’ lost employment amid the COVID-19 pandemic, she couldn’t pay rent.
The first night after she was evicted, things became very uncertain for her and her three children. She thought about where she could go for shelter, but nowhere came to mind. She would spend many nights driving aimlessly over the next month, worrying about her children bundled up in the backseat of her car.
For the first month after her eviction, she continued to struggle finding a place to go. Some nights she was able to stay with her parents.
Other nights, the car remained her best option.
Those evenings, James would sit awake, driving nowhere in particular, as her kids bundled for warmth.
“Night is the scariest,” James said. “You don’t know what’s going to happen. You don’t know who might come upon you.”
Eventually, James was able to receive a motel voucher through her relationship with a local religious leader, but it only granted shelter for a few days. She approached the Bear River Association of Governments for help.
James said the program held high, difficult qualifications for applicants who were trying to receive help finding a residence.
“You have to meet all this criteria,” James said. “You either have to have a bishop paying for your hotel room, or you have to be living in your car, or living somewhere unsafe.”
In order to qualify, she would again need to return to living out of her car.
Fortunately, another option emerged.
“I had finally broke down to my sister, and she couldn’t believe what I had told her,” Krystina said, explaining her sister invited her into her home.
James eventually did receive help through BRAG’s Rapid Rehousing program. Her and her children now know where they will sleep at the end of the day.
Still, she remembers the nights when that wasn’t the case, and the experiences when she felt institutions meant to help people in her position didn’t give her assistance.
Lucas Martin, BRAG’s human services director, said seven case managers have left the institution in the past three years. Among the reasons is the burnout that comes with regularly working with people in need of assistance and having to say no.
“People hear that I’ve got $130,000, $160,000,” he said, talking about BRAG’s programs to assist people without homes. “That really is just not much money.”
He further explained that, prior to extra money BRAG received through COVID-19 relief programs, all of the funding for each of his programs added up to just over $200,000.
While that number grew significantly during the pandemic, it is returning to normal just as shopping without a mask or accepting a casual handshake.
“Two programs can, in theory, serve someone for up to a year,” he said, mentioning different services for families and individuals. “But, funding wise, if you serve someone for a year at $1,000 a month … you’re going to run out of money real fast.”
During a conversation he had with The Herald Journal on Jan. 27, Martin was searching through the backroads of Hyde Park, looking for signs of individuals who were without shelter.
The sun not yet risen, he relied on headlights, flashlights and streetlights to illuminate his search.
He held tightly to the wheel of his Prius, carefully steering the small vehicle over the fresh coats of snow covering the road.
Having worked in his position for eight years, he has seen and helped the Point-in-Time count develop from 20 or 30 community volunteers to a coordinated effort involving Utah State University, BRAG, Families Feeding Families and several other local entities.
He carefully scanned areas for parked cars, cracked storage unit doors or any other signs of people as he cruised the streets of Hyde Park.
Though vehicles being slept in can normally be identified by the heavy condensation gathering on the inside of their windows, the weather had left every vehicle buried under inches of snow.
Still, every so often he would pull over and attempt to commune with individuals who may or may not have been in the cars.
At one point, after finding a storage unit with a door slightly ajar, he left a pamphlet with information on how to connect with local resources hoping to find someone who — because of budgetary constraints — might not be able to receive the assistance they need.
On the night of Jan. 1, 2022, Nicole Burnard was engaged in a very similar search for individuals without homes. A Utah State University undergraduate majoring in social work at the time, Burnard was working with the Bear River Association of Governments and was no stranger to the homeless population in Cache Valley.
Snow littered the ground — the kind that stubbornly clings together and freezes into icy patches. Burnard remembers the evening to be “to-the-bone cold.”
In the chill of the night, Burnard, who prefers gender neutral pronouns, found they needed to use a felt pen to fill out paperwork as it was too far below freezing for ballpoints to operate.
“That night, it was miserable — bitter cold,” Burnard said. “My fingers were freezing. My toes were freezing, even though I had, like, winter boots on.”
Earlier, Burnard had called their supervisor to ask if they could give motel vouchers to the individuals they found suffering without homes. Though BRAG typically only offered the vouchers to people who came to the association for help, Burnard’s boss approved the request.
Burnard came across a van with a broken window to find a man huddled beneath a mound of blankets inside. Burnard quickly learned the individual was sick, and the van was nonfunctioning.
Another van Burnard came across contained a pair of adult siblings. One of them had recently had wrist surgery on both forearms.
Overall, Burnard found eight people, all of which were issued motel vouchers.
Though they were able to help the individuals they found that night, Burnard knew motel vouchers weren’t a viable long-term solution.
Burnard decided something had to be done. They turned to their professors and began exploring possible solutions other communities had tried. The idea for a community warming center took root.
According to information provided by Jayme Walters — a USU social work professor and the director of the school’s Transforming Communities Institute — a local survey showed 98% of respondents believed “There should be an overnight warming center during winter months.” Most believed it would be a good use of tax dollars.
Late last year, William A. Burnard Warming Center’s staff opened the doors of St. John’s Episcopal Church from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. for those with nowhere else to go.
Burnard, now a graduate student, is on the board of directors with several other community leaders and individuals aware of homelessness in the valley.
Shortly before WAB opened its doors, James was offered a position on the nonprofit’s board.
“It’s been good,” she said. “I think it’s just going to take getting the word out and getting people to know where it’s at.”
Her previous conversations with The Herald Journal taking place last fall, she reconnected with the paper in December with updates about her life and position with WAB.
“It’s hard for people to understand someone coming from living experience,” she said. “I also need to understand their side of it.”
While she’s working with the nonprofit to help shelter those without a place to go, her own fiscal position was becoming unsteady.
Though she was in the process of divorcing her husband, she was still legally wed to him.
She added that, given rising expenses, she had helped her parents so they wouldn’t go without food or heat. Her dad had applied for assistance, she said, but “he’s over the limit by like $40.”
“I probably have to go bankrupt,” she said. “You know there’s programs that are there to help, but it makes it so hard to even apply or get approved.”
She hopes the financial move doesn’t leave her without a home once again.
“I’ve been in a situation where I’ve looked at people and been like, ‘Eh, just get a job,’” she said, “but after I’ve hit rock bottom, you know a little bit of kindness just goes a long way.”
When asked what she would say to valley residents if she could say anything, she shared a variation of a popular quote with unknown origins:
“When you have more than you need, build a bigger table, not a higher wall.”
Facing uncertainty and feeling helpless, her voice became shaky as she recalled an experience she had at a recent thanksgiving gathering with her family, when a conversation with her brother-in-law turned into the realm of social economics and programs to assist individuals in need.
“He was saying, ‘It’s not my responsibility to take care of them,’ and, ‘I work really hard for my money,’” James recalled. “He’s like, ‘So many people have helped you.”
James — who said she struggled to even tell her sibling about her situation — felt like he’d slapped her in the face.
“Who?” she asked.
Welcome to the discussion.
We welcome comments, however there are some guidelines:
Keep it Clean: Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexual language. Don't Threaten: Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated. Be Truthful: Don't lie about anyone or anything. Be Nice: No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading. Be Proactive: Report abusive posts and don’t engage with trolls. Share with Us: Tell us your personal accounts and the history behind articles.