Once a family joins the ranks of the homeless on the streets, it's four times as hard to bring them back to solvency and self-sufficiency than it would have been to have avoided that circumstance in the beginning, Utah County housing officials say.
Homeless children tend to go without schooling and regular bathing. Health problems multiply. Family tensions rise.The magnitude of social woes becomes expensive and troublesome as the family becomes transient.
On the other hand, if a family can be assisted in getting work and housing that gets them into a permanent home, family stability increases and society gains a contributing household.
That's partly why local and state housing authority officials are lauding the results they're starting to see in the State of Utah's Community Collaboration for Economic Self-Sufficiency (SUCCESS) program.
The state housing program involves seven municipalities linked together in the effort: Utah, Davis and Salt Lake counties, along with West Valley City, Salt Lake City, Ogden and Provo.
"SUCCESS is one of many programs designed to help Utahns become self-sufficient," said Gov. Mike Leavitt in a letter to Utah County officials. "It is our goal to help people gain meaningful employment so that they can receive paychecks, rather than welfare assistance."
"We need more of this," said Gene Carly, executive director of the Housing Authority of Utah County. "I think this makes sense."
Families volunteer for the program after Lynell Smith introduces the concept to them during interviews with people who need housing assistance.
"I help screen and then they report to me," said Smith. "The families I've worked with are serious about getting into a home. It's been a neat thing."
Families are identified as wanting to work toward home ownership. They enter a five-year program of goal-setting and achievement through Workforce Services which is geared toward teaching self-sufficiency.
During the time they're saving for their home, the family is allowed to rent one of the units that Utah County Housing Authority owns and can make available at affordable cost. As their income increases, so does the rent but the increase is set aside into an escrow account toward owning a home one day.
Currently, "affordable housing" in Utah County goes for between $450 and $541 for a two-bedroom unit.
Once the family has enough of a return - usually around $5,000 after five years - to qualify with a down payment, they are directed to apply to the Olene Walker Housing Trust Fund for a low-interest soft loan that doesn't become due unless the home is resold.
They can also apply with the Utah Housing Finance Agency , which can provide up to 4 percent of the down payment and closing costs as a grant.