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This donated RV is one way the community can chip away at homelessness in Utah

pictured from left to right, Townsend's mother Theresa Bellucci, daughter Cambria Blackford, and Phylicia Townsend herself, May 18, 2023. The family is occupying a donated RV camper as a temporary housing solution.
Curtis Booker
pictured from left to right, Townsend's mother Theresa Bellucci, daughter Cambria Blackford, and Phylicia Townsend herself, May 18, 2023. The family is occupying a donated RV camper as a temporary housing solution.

When Phylicia Townsend made the decision to leave what she called an abusive relationship, there wasn’t a lot of time to figure out where she, her 15-year-old daughter and their cats would go.

“We had, like, one day to move out. And we really wanted out of the situation, but just trying to move a whole household full of items and plus find a place for not only ourselves but would accept our pets. And it was just really rough, and then still trying to go to work on top of that, it was just a nightmare,” Townsend said.

The family ended up living inside of a car.

Townsend has a full-time job and said she tried getting government assistance for housing but was told she makes too much money, even though it was not enough to afford housing on her own. She didn’t have much luck finding consistent shelter, either.

“A lot of people wouldn't take us in. And then they gave us like four hours to get to one shelter. But we're trying to have a plan for our pets. And by the time that, you know, we're getting something figured out for them and I call them back, they're like, ‘Oh, well, you only had four hours to be here. Somebody else took your spot,’Townsend explained.

This went on for a month.

“It was almost surreal because, like, me as a mom, it really hit me, like, all my heartstrings. Trying to support my daughter and having to live in a car. And, so it was just heartbreaking.”

According to the state’s homelessness data dashboard, Utah saw a 7% increase in families accessing homeless services over the past year. On average, Utah has a population of 15,670 homeless individuals.

Near her wit’s end of trying to find a place for her family to live, at the beginning of May Townsend decided to reach out to Nomad Alliance to see what resources were available.

The nonprofit helps the unsheltered population in northern Utah through a number of different services, like donating supplies, helping people move during abatements and offering temporary stays in tiny homes and campers while people get on their feet.

Kseniya Kniazeva, who overcame homelessness herself, founded the organization in 2021.

After meeting with Townsend and learning more about her situation, Kniazeva wanted to help.

A couple had previously reached out to Nomad “who said they had a fifth wheel, that they wanted to donate to a family and they saw a previous post looking for a place to park a trailer for another family,” she said.

Kniazeva had also been in contact with the owner of Provo River Resort, an RV park nestled in Provo Canyon, who was willing to offer up campsites. Typically, it would cost between $75 to $200 a night to camp at the site.

“We kind of were able to connect someone that wanted to donate a home to someone that was willing to provide the space for that home to be and to be safe and be stable.

Anita Ault, who manages the park, is allowing Townsend to occupy the space free of charge until July. From there, the cost will be $100 a month, with an additional $100 tacked on each month thereafter until Townsend and her family can find a permanent solution. Kniezeva said they are not charging Townsend for the RV.

Ault said the inspiration to help came from her dad who suggested the idea to help people dealing with homelessness.

“You know, you've got some kids, they're pissed off if they don't get a $500 pair of Nike's. And, you know. Phylicia and her daughter came and they were just so thrilled to have a place to sleep. And that's just humbling.

In addition to this camper, Nomad Alliance also has a permanent tiny home people rotate in and out of. Earlier this year, its warming bus provided a place for the unhoused to come in out of the cold during Utah’s recent brutal winter.

“We're new and that allows us to be a lot more innovative than the current status quo. We don't expect, you know, to do the same thing expecting a different result. We're trying to find new and novel ways that haven't yet been explored for housing, for instance, like this opportunity [for Phylicia],” Kniazeva said.

Kniazeva’s organization hopes to provide similar temporary housing situations to more families in need.

Townsend, her daughter Cambria, their two cats and her mother, who’s on disability, moved into the 30-foot RV trailer on May 17. She plans to use this opportunity to save money and eventually purchase her own RV.

“This is one of the greatest opportunities ever,said Townsend.

Curtis Booker is KUER’s growth, wealth and poverty reporter in Central Utah.
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