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Davis Journal

County leaders come together to discuss homelessness challenges and resources

Jun 06, 2024 09:30AM ● By Becky Ginos
A tent tucked away near Victory Road near the State Capitol. Although many don’t believe there is a problem with homelessness in Davis County it does happen here. Photo by Roger V. Tuttle

A tent tucked away near Victory Road near the State Capitol. Although many don’t believe there is a problem with homelessness in Davis County it does happen here. Photo by Roger V. Tuttle

LAYTON—What is the face of homelessness? For most people, it’s something that happens downtown or along Victory Road to the Capitol. It’s men and women pushing shopping carts filled with their belongings. It’s not teens and it’s not in Davis County – but it is. There are close to 1,600 homeless or at- risk teens in the county. 

Leaders in the county came together recently to take part in a discussion sponsored by the Davis Journal to exchange ideas about the challenges of homelessness and available resources. 

“That number of teens is the ones we know about,” said Kara Toone with Davis Education Foundation. “That’s probably an underestimation. We have kids fill out forms at the beginning of school that ask if they lack fixed adequate nighttime residence.”

Kids drift because their parents are in jail, etc., she said. “Typically homeless youth are masked. Someone will let you sleep on their couch for a few weeks until they get tired of you or you have a falling out with that friend. Maybe you were staying with your girlfriend and then you broke up.”

These kids are in dire straits, said Toone. “They just want a place to sleep tonight. They’d love to be in the same place tomorrow as today.”

Early intervention is key, she said. “If you can catch a kid in secondary school, ages 13, 14, 15, 16, there’s a direct correlation between graduation and not graduating. That’s the silver bullet. You can’t wait until they’re 27, addicted and dealing with mental illness. Graduation is a game changer.”

Extracurricular activities like choir, sports, chess club gives them a sense of community, said Toone. “It makes a difference.”

“If you’re hungry it’s hard to say ‘I’m going to choir or sports,’” said Ryan Westergard, Davis Behavioral Health CFO and Woods Cross mayor. “If you don’t have your basic needs you can't focus on treatment and recovery, that’s why we’re involved.”

It’s not just teens but adults who are experiencing homelessness, said Westergard. “Everyone would love to think we live in Davis County and there are no homeless, they don’t want to believe it could happen in Davis County – but it does. It’s a growing problem that is affecting all of us.”

Davis County Commissioner Lorene Kamalu took part in the Point-in-Time effort where volunteers go out in January to find those who are homeless and take count. “There were 45 people in Davis County and that’s just someone who they happened to find. There are plenty of folks who are experiencing homelessness.”

It’s surprising to learn what their barriers are, said Kamalu. “Some are things that we could just take care of but it’s a huge insurmountable barrier.”

Another aspect of homelessness is food insecurity. “Hunger affects everybody and everything you do,” said Rebekah Anderson, executive director of the Bountiful Food Pantry. “Coming in to get food is one of the easiest things you can do. People show up and we’ll give them food.”

Anderson said the pantry has had more people come in than they’ve ever had. “In April 2023 we had 137 new clients. In April 2024, we had over 700. Look at those stats, we know there is a huge need in Davis County. I feel like we’re going to see it get worse.”

There are average, everyday Utah citizens who get in a situation where they can’t make ends meet, she said. “That can break the camel’s back for some people.”

“We sit in a good place to help people,” said Davis Technical College President Darin Brush. “We look a little more upstream after graduation. We help kids get ahead of the intergenerational problem. If they can get far enough along on an accessible path it’s a short time to a living wage job. If we can get them to graduate from high school they have a fighting chance.”

If they can’t eat they can’t learn, he said. “If they don’t have transportation or day care they can’t learn. We’re a model institution. Every single student doesn’t leave with debt. There is no financial barrier to attend Davis Tech.”

The vast majority of people don’t want to be homeless, said Westergard. “They get into a situation and they can’t get out. We all need to look at the human side of it.”