Homelessness continues to rise in Cache Valley as housing becomes difficult to find and more people are entering the assistance system with nowhere else to go.
“We are seeing a longer than anticipated shelter stay for a lot of our families,” said Louise Speth, a representative for CAPSA during a Tuesday meeting of the Local Homeless Coordinating Council. “Housing is very, very tight, even with the great support and advocacy that goes on from BRAG and CAPSA. Landlords who want to help just don’t have the units.”
According to the Bear River Association of Governments, 16.5% of households earn less than $25,000 annually and 24.5% of households pay more than 30% of their income on housing costs. Homelessness in the Bear River region — which is composed of Cache, Box Elder and Rich counties — is rising as the area faces significant growth.
Part of the crisis is because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but now that the housing market is doing well, rented houses are being sold and renters are ending up on the streets, according to LHCC officials. Some families can’t afford to pay their rent, are evicted, or in some cases, the landlord doesn’t renew a lease, leaving them homeless.
The LHCC seeks to help those who are homeless by providing temporary housing in hotels or purchased properties such as a trailer. Unfortunately, it is becoming much harder for those in need to find permanent housing. With increased competition for what housing there is available, some renters also face increased challenges due to poor credit, a criminal record or issues with drugs.
While permanent housing normally could be found in under a week or two, local officials say, it is now taking over a month on average to locate housing for the homeless.
Since it is taking longer to locate permanent housing for these people, temporary housing is being used longer, as well, making it difficult to house the rising number of people experiencing homelessness. The LHCC recently discussed plans to apply for American Rescue Plan funding to build more low-income and affordable housing. Utah received $50 million from that 2021 economic stimulus act to allocate as needed.
“The average number of households per week that we had in August was 38.75,” stated Stephanie Carver, a case worker for BRAG. “To give perspective on that, last August the average households on the coordinated entry list in August 2020 was 24.75. So that’s quite a huge difference.”
These statistics represent the number of people who are currently in the homelessness system.
Utah’s Department of Homeless Services reported in its 2021 assessment that nearly 65,600 people in the state are currently homeless.
For 73% of these people, it was their first time visiting a shelter or living in temporary housing. The number of people exiting the homelessness assistance system has gone down, as well, from approximately 3,000 people leaving in 2017 to 2,000 in 2021.
The annual Point-in-Time count, conducted for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, requires municipalities nationwide to gather data on homelessness. The goal is to locate those who are experiencing homelessness and connect them with the necessary resources. While PIT counts are typically conducted in January, since Cache County doesn’t have a homeless shelter the general unhoused population can seek out in cold weather, local advocates have gained permission to conduct a PIT count in the summer, as well. It will be conducted this year on Sept. 25.
Last year’s PIT counts found that more than half (53%) of unsheltered homeless households were families, 62% were male, and 42% were experiencing homelessness for the first time.