New report shows increase in Utah children experiencing homelessness

Feb 23, 2023, 8:00 AM | Updated: 8:52 am

Salt Lake City could soon have a permanent homeless camp. Victoria Petro, Salt Lake City Council me...

FILE: Tony Lambert moves some of his belongings at his homeless encampment in SLC on Feb 2., 2023 (Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

(Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — The total number of people from families with children who used emergency homeless services increased by 30% in 2022, according to a new report released Wednesday.

The Crossroads Urban Center, a nonprofit focused on low-income Utahns, discussed the report in its legislative update. The report and Crossroads Urban Center Executive Director Bill Tibbitts discussed how low-income Utahns have been impacted and recommendations on how best to move forward.

The report stated that while people in some areas like Salt Lake County and Utah County experienced an increase in median income in the last year to better cope with inflation and higher costs of living, those relying on disability or Social Security benefits did not receive a similar raise last year.

“This widening gap between the people on the bottom and everyone else has created an unfortunate situation where a growing segment of the population is just being priced out of the rental market, including a lot of families,” Tibbitts explained.

The disparity between low-income families and others has created higher competition in a difficult rental market, the report said. That contributed to the 30% rise in homelessness for families with children, with 65% of those families never having experienced homelessness before.

The report indicated that in 2022:

  • There were 6,497 people from families with children who received homeless services in Utah.
  • Of the people who experienced homelessness in Utah last year, 22% were under age 18 — identical to the share of the total state population estimated by the U.S. Census Bureau to be under 18.
  • The Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute reports that rents in Salt Lake County increased by 22% from 2020 to 2022, likely contributing to the rise in homelessness.

“Because of the surge in need, we had a situation from August to November where families with children were being forced to sleep in tents, to sleep in cars, because there were not enough beds in the shelter for all the families that need help,” Tibbitts said.

Of the Utah children who received homeless services last year, 875 of them were aged 6 years old or younger. The most common time for an individual to experience homelessness is during the first year of life, with the second most common between 1 and 6 years old, according to the report.

The complexity of homelessness with children is further amplified by child care costs. The average cost of child care is approximately $561 per month, which can add an increased financial strain on the cost of living for low-income families.

While solutions to homelessness can vary, Tibbitts explained that families with children need a different approach than other demographics.

“Most people sleeping outside — most visibly homeless people — are childless adults, so a lot of the energy has been focused on the needs of those people,” said Tibbitts. “It’s just not going to be appropriate for families with children to be living in a sanctioned campground.”

There’s just no dispute at this point that the longer a kid is homeless, the harder it’s going to be for them to reach their full potential in the years following that experience of homelessness.Bill Tibbitts, executive director of Crossroads Urban Center

The report outlined the following recommendations for state and local leaders:

  • Strengthen efforts to reduce family homelessness and integrate them with the efforts of schools and homeless service providers.
  • Increase funding for programs that help domestic violence survivors move into safe, stable and accessible housing.
  • Set the goal of moving all families with children out of the shelter system within six months and a goal to produce 200 units of supportive housing for the families that currently have been in shelters for six months or more.
  • Ensure access to child care for families coming out of homelessness with young children.
  • Increase funding to produce deeply affordable housing for families with children and to provide rental assistance to help families avoid homelessness.

“There’s just no dispute at this point that the longer a kid is homeless, the harder it’s going to be for them to reach their full potential in the years following that experience of homelessness. So we really need as a state to prioritize helping families move out of homelessness,” said Tibbitts.

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New report shows increase in Utah children experiencing homelessness