Kathleen French is a single working mother with four children. Michael Konopka is a single dad with a special-needs child. Shailey Ovard is a mother determined to break the cycle of her drug addiction. Each of them is living with their children at The Road Home family shelter in Midvale, Utah. Each wants the same thing — a safe and affordable home of their own.
KUED follows these three Utah families to shed light on the complicated issues they face in this half-hour documentary, A Home of Their Own, that is part of KUED’s Homeless in Utah Project.
Hundreds of Utah families become homeless every year. Since 2009, the number of homeless families in the state has increased by 17 percent. Poverty, domestic violence, lack of affordable housing, drug addiction, and untreated mental illness all contribute to the increase in homelessness. A single life crisis such as losing a job, being evicted from an apartment, or an expensive medical bill can force a family into an emergency shelter — which can be traumatic for both parents and children.
“It’s scary because you don’t know what to expect. Until you’ve lost everything, to the point where you literally put yourself in two black bins under your metal bunk bed in a room of 300 other people, until you have absolutely nothing to your name, you can’t possible understand,” says Kathleen French.
For parents who find themselves homeless, finding a safe place to take their children is a daily struggle. Some seek refuge with friends and relatives. For others, the only choice is to turn to an emergency shelter like The Road Home. “When you think of homeless people, you think of panhandlers or people sleeping on park benches,” Kathleen says. “You don’t think of mothers and fathers and single parents with children.”
“Families who become homeless need a lot of support to connect to the services they need,” says producer Sally Shaum. “It’s also difficult for families because we’re in a housing crisis right now.”
Many of the families who come to shelters already have a job, but were evicted from their housing for late payment. “It has taken a crisis like this homeless crisis to get affordable housing into the equation,” says Tara Rollins, Executive Director of the Utah Housing Coalition.
The ultimate goal of shelters like The Road Home is to help people into their own home as soon as possible. But the path to self-reliance is often paved with barriers beyond a family’s control.
“People who end up at the homeless shelter are living in poverty. Their family is living in poverty. They have shown up here because they don’t have that support network around them,” says Michelle Flynn, Associate Executive Director of Programs at The Road Home.
When Kathleen French finally found housing and was ready to leave the shelter, she admitted that she was scared. “All I can think is, what about school? How are you going to pay the bills on your own? What about reliable transportation? I just want stability.”
Even so, Kathleen is excited that she and her children will finally have a home of their own.