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A new home for people leaving Utah’s closed polygamous communities

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Posted at 5:00 PM, Nov 26, 2015
and last updated 2015-11-26 23:51:56-05

DRAPER, Utah -- Tonia Tewell moves through the massive home, pointing out all the things that will change.

"This will be one apartment," she says, pointing around the room. "We'll bust out a wall to have a family room and kitchenette in this area and a bedroom in this area."

The home was recently purchased by a donor to her non-profit group, "Holding Out Help," to use as transitional housing for people leaving Utah's polygamous communities. It will also become a permanent base for the group.

"We've kind of been wanderers," Tewell said in a recent interview with FOX 13. "This will provide office space and life skills classes, plus housing and everything that we need in one location."

Tonia Tewell, the director of Holding Out Help, shows off a home donated for the group to use as transitional housing for people leaving polygamous communities.

Tonia Tewell, the director of Holding Out Help, shows off a home donated for the group to use as transitional housing for people leaving polygamous communities.

Holding Out Help takes no position on polygamy itself. The group offers support services for people both inside and outside of Utah's often-isolated polygamous communities. Tewell said recently, they have documented more and more people leaving. Some report being frustrated by their leaders' edicts, others said they were kicked out for various "sins."

Last year, Tewell said, her group helped more than 600 people who chose to leave -- mostly from the Fundamentalist LDS Church on the Utah-Arizona border.

"They're coming, needing everything," she said. "Food, clothing and shelter. A lot of them need counseling and don't know it. Education is a big thing. Just about everything a refugee coming in from another country might need."

Holding Out Help operates a network of "safe houses" for people who leave their group in a state of crisis. However, their Draper facility will be their first permanent location. The home was donated for the group to use, with the option of purchasing at any time.

A home in Draper donated for Holding Out Help to use as transitional housing for people leaving polygamous communities.

A home in Draper donated for Holding Out Help to use as transitional housing for people leaving polygamous communities.

Amanda Allred said she chose to leave her community at age 15 and would have welcomed a facility like this to offer her tutoring opportunities. She told FOX 13 for others who need it most, it will be a refuge.

"A lot of times, what happens is you come out and you end up going back because it's comfortable and you don't know what to do," Allred said. "This will give people a place to stay and give them a higher success rate."

The group is hosting a Holiday Open House to show off the new facility. That event is scheduled for Friday, November 27, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the home, which is located at 748 East Pioneer Road (124000 South) in Draper.

Holding Out Help said it welcomes donations to provide support for the people they serve. More information can be found here.