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Homeless PIT Count Showed 'Enormous Increase' In Bear River Area

Homelessness in Utah, squatting in abandoned buildings and living out of cars, Utah's unsheltered homeless count increased 1,475% in the Bear River area.
Cliff Johnson
While the number of individuals in Utah's homeless shelters is decreasing, the latest Point-in-Time count showed an "enormous increase" in unsheltered homeless in rural Utah.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Devolopment (HUD) defines 'homelessness' as: "living in a place not meant for human habitation, in emergency shelter, in transitional housing, or are exiting an institution where they temporarily resided."  On Jan. 23, volunteers spread across the state to help with HUD's annual Point-in-Time (PIT) Count.

Jess Lucero is the Utah State University representative on the Bear River area’s Local Homeless Coordinating Committee, or LHCC. She said while the number of homeless people in shelters has been decreasing in Utah, the 2020 PIT count showed an exponential increase of unsheltered homelessness in Cache, Rich and Box Elder counties — an area that only receives 1.26% of the state’s budget allocated for homelessness.

“We, this year, had an enormous increase,” Lucero said. “We've never really been above an unsheltered count of five on any given year, thinking back to the last decade. And this year, our account was 43 households and 16 minor children. It was just under half of those who were surveyed this year, of those 43 heads of households, had been homeless for less than three months.”

According to Lucero, the increase was seen in other rural parts of the state, as well. Stefanie Jones, the committee’s co-chair and Bear River Association of Governments (BRAG)'s homeless coordinator, said she has frequently had members of the community tell her they’re one paycheck away from homelessness, themselves.

“I find it interesting that in times of economic boom, those are actually harder times on the homeless," Jones said, "because the height the housing costs are going up so high but the income or the salaries aren't rising with it.”

Lucero said the Bear River area count’s 1,475% increase could partially be due to the large volunteer turnout this year and tips on highly frequented areas from community groups, like Families Feeding Families — which led to a larger coverage of the area.

Though the numbers of the count have not been officially verified by the state, Lucero suspects they are an underestimate of actual homelessness in Utah as it’s only a snapshot of few hours’ time.