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Salt Lake City donates $100K from tax initiative to fund school-based homelessness program

By Lauren Bennett, KSL | Posted - Apr 20th, 2019 @ 10:51am


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SALT LAKE CITY — Last April Cindy Taufa, then a single mother of eight, was given just 30 days notice to move out of her Salt Lake duplex after the landlord unexpectedly sold the building.

Six of her children attend schools within the Salt Lake City School District and Taufa said it was difficult to get them to school while struggling with the instability of homelessness.

One year later, now working two jobs as a certified nursing assistant and raising nine children with the addition of a grandchild, Taufa lives with her children in a six-bedroom Salt Lake house — all thanks to Utah Community Action's school outreach homeless program.

"It's just made it a lot easier for me to be able to have the stability I need to raise my kids," Taufa, who moved into the house in February, said Tuesday. "And have them constantly in school whereas it was harder for us to get them to school even on time or even at all without a place to stay."

Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski announced Tuesday a donation of $105,808 from the city’s Funding Our Future sales-tax initiative to keep the organization’s school-based homelessness program operating.

Taufa said living in her own place is "less stressful" and the stability's made a big difference in her kid's lives as well.

"It's a lot more relaxed and my kids are relaxed," she said. "I see that they're happier and they don't worry so much and they're not arguing as much, which is great."

Lauralee Duarte, Taufa's case manager in the program, said she gets excited when she sees families placed into housing.

"They don't just get housed, they get an opportunity to be a family again without all that chaos around them," Duarte said.

The city partnered with Utah Community Action and the Salt Lake City School District to continue to enhance its school-based homelessness program.

The grant is expected to target a minimum of 12 households that meet the McKinney-Veto definition of homelessness, which includes those "couch-surfing" and living in cars. Additionally families must be at or below 40 percent of the area's median income and have at least one school-aged child enrolled in Salt Lake City School District to qualify.

"The heart of this program are the students in our city schools," Biskupski said. "Young people who are doing all they can to stay focused on their studies and trying to live normal lives."

Salt Lake City Councilman Andrew Johnston said funding projects like this is important, even if it means some things in the city might be a little more expensive.

"I want to thank the citizens of Salt Lake City and all those who come to Salt Lake and help with our sales tax, because that's the way we can help fund these things — and it's meaningful," he said. "When we pay a little extra for our amenities downtown, it helps families in very deep ways."

The funding will help build on a pilot program initiated in 2017 through the partnership of the school district and Utah Community Action, aimed at addressing a gap in the homeless system, according to Patrice Dickson, chief operations officer of social services for the community agency.

"This program provides eligible families with case management, short to medium term rental assistance and connections to UCA's other programs," she said. "Having a stable home greatly impacts the student's ability to succeed in school."

The pilot program has served 51 families, with a total of 121 school-age children, who have met the requirements since its inception in 2017. Of those 51 families, 25 have secured housing and the organization is working with the remaining families to secure housing, Dickson said.

"I didn't realize how many families there are that actually do need this kind of help until (I) was in it," Taufa said.

Mike Harman, Salt Lake City School District homeless education liaison, said he works closely with families experiencing homelessness and knows how greatly children can be impacted by it.

"As an educational institution, we don't have the organizational capacity or the resources to provide housing," he said. "But through this partnership, we now have additional tools that we can refer families to get the support that they need when they're facing a housing crisis."

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Lauren Bennett

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