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Homeless numbers declining in Utah

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Posted at 9:07 PM, May 01, 2013
and last updated 2013-05-01 23:46:24-04

OGDEN -- A homeless shelter is the last place Ashley Morningwolf wanted to be at. But here she is, with her three young children, after her husband lost his job a few months ago.

"We lost the place where we were staying, our trailer, because we weren't able to pay the rent," she explained.

Ramiro Zavala ushered his wife and children into the dining room for a hot meal. They had just arrived at St. Anne's Center. It is the first time they have ever been homeless, he said.

"I got laid off and I was renting a house, so I couldn't keep up with my bills and I ended up here in the shelter," Zavala said.

Despite new numbers released by state officials showing a decline in homelessness in Utah, shelter workers told FOX 13 they continue to see an increasing number of families seeking help.

"Families in particular that are coming to us that have been homeless for the first time and not knowing what their options are," said Jennifer Canter, the director of St. Anne's Center.

The Utah Division of Housing and Community Development on Wednesday reported a nine percent decline in people experiencing chronic homelessness over the past year, a decrease of 74-percent since 2005. Chronic homelessness amongst military veterans was labeled an "effective zero," meaning there is enough resources available to house every chronically homeless veteran.

Overall, state officials claimed, homelessness in general has dropped seven percent over the past year, with an estimated population of 15,093. That decline is offset by a large spike in 2012, when the homeless population was estimated to be 16,522. A census is taken statewide at shelters and campsites every January, in an effort to get an accurate count of those without homes.

"It's down from last year, which is really a reflection of economics," said Gordon Walker, the director of UDHCD.

Despite the optimistic outlook, shelters said they continue to see a need. Canter took FOX 13 on a tour of St. Anne's, where she has turned offices into makeshift bedrooms for all the families that have showed up.

St. Anne's Center is in the midst of a fundraising drive to build a bigger shelter for the Ogden area.

"We continue to have families that come to us that we have to put on the floor of our dining room," she said. "We've turned two or three offices into family rooms to accommodate the need."