The Rev. Kim James knows well the long-term effects of childhood homelessness.
“My two adopted children, now 19 and 18, were born in extreme poverty in a foreign country and lived there until we adopted them at ages 8 and 6,” said James, who is the pastor at First United Methodist Church in Marriott-Slaterville. “Their earliest years were characterized by life on the streets.”
The two spent their days trying to find shelter in abandoned buildings, she said, adding that they were abused as well.
“Despite over a decade of strong adoptive and professional intervention, those early years of homeless trauma have left lifelong scars,” James said.
James is one of eight Ogden-area church leaders who will be discussing ways to end child homelessness from the pulpit on Sunday, Feb. 5.
The leaders have answered a call from Utah’s Coalition of Religious Communities to inspire congregants to lobby for and support programs.
“Working together, we really can make our state into one where no child experiences homelessness,” said a news release from the coalition. “The House of Representatives has already passed a bill (HB 36) that would provide millions of dollars of funding for affordable housing and a bill (HB 40) that will make it harder for payday lenders to keep clients stuck in a debt trap. Hopefully both bills will soon pass in the Senate.”
“Talk alone can be ineffective, but the goal of this ‘Ending Child Homelessness Sabbath’ is to motivate action,” James said. A member of the coalition steering committee, she said goals include inspiring attendance at Multi-Faith Day, Feb. 23, at the Utah State Capitol.
“Any goal worth pursuing has to begin somewhere, and this goal is both morally imperative and a possible accomplishment,” James said.
When Utahns counted homeless people statewide on one day in 2016, volunteers found 620 children from 298 homeless families, said CORC leader Bill Tibbitts, quoting A Comprehensive Report on Homelessness. At some point in a year, about five times that many children will experiences homelessness in Utah, he said.
The numbers are low enough that the problem is conquerable, said James and Rev. Gage Church.
“Our state is in no way impoverished, so there is no reason a child should be on the streets, sleeping in a car, living in a shelter, or ‘couch surfing’ with older — and sometimes inappropriate — friends,” said Church, who is pastor at Congregational United Church of Christ in Ogden.
“Nonprofit organizations work on the slimmest of budgets,” he said. “We think our state government — and the people of Utah — have the resources to do more than put Band-Aids on the problem.”
The Rev. Vanessa Cato, of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, said raising awareness is important.
“Families are the fastest-growing segment of homelessness because of the rising costs of housing and living expenses, such as child care and medical costs, compared with depressed wages,” she said. “Unfortunately, when a low-income family has a financial setback, and no other resources, homelessness is a real and frightening possibility.”
She said more programs are needed. Her church is one participating in Family Promise, a program to host families to spend a week each quarter sleeping and having dinner in their house of worship.
“I would hope that this observance, by raising awareness of the problem, will also encourage other churches, and individuals, to support child homelessness programs,” she said.
Rev. Gary Haddock said he hopes the observance will “put a face on the homeless population,” reminding people that children are included.
“I hope it will remind us all that as we have cared for the homeless, we have cared for Christ,” said Haddock, who is pastor at Community United Methodist Church in Washington Terrace. “I hope it will encourage people to volunteer, to give financially and to look the homeless in the eye and help them know they are blessed Children of God.”
Ogden-area churches participating, their addresses and meeting times are:
• Community United Methodist Church of Washington Terrace, 163 W. 4800 South, worships at 9 a.m. and 10 a.m.;
• Congregational United Church of Christ of Ogden, 3350 Harrison Blvd., meets at 11 a.m.;
• The Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd of Ogden, 2374 Grant Ave., holds English services at 8 a.m. and 10:30 a.m.;
• First Presbyterian Church of Ogden, 880 28th Street, meets at 8:30 a.m., 9:20 a.m. and 11 a.m.
• Ogden Community of Christ, 848 E. 700 South, worships at 11 a.m.;
• First United Methodist Church of Marriott-Slaterville, 1339 W. 400 North, meets at 10 a.m.;
• Our Savior's Lutheran Church of Roy, 5560 S. 2300 West, holds services at 8 a.m. and 10:30 a.m., and
• Unitarian Universalist Church of Ogden, 705 23rd Street, worships at 10:30 a.m.