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The Richfield fire has added to the small town’s existing housing challenges

Richfield fire, Sevier County Sheriff's Office, Nov. 21, 2022
Sevier County Sheriff’s Office
Emergency personnel respond to the Ville 647 fire in Richfield, Utah, Nov. 21, 2022.

Dozens of families are trying to pick up the pieces after a massive fire ripped through Ville 647, a former motel turned affordable housing in Richfield. While some local agencies are working to provide a helping hand, the question is for how long?

New Horizons Crisis Center in Richfield is helping roughly 25 residents displaced after the Nov. 21 fire. New Horizons mostly offers a safe space for victims of domestic violence and has some homeless services.

New Horizons executive director Debbie Mayo said her organization was able to obtain a grant from the Utah Office of Homeless Services to help in recovery efforts.

“They were great. And we went back and forth and kind of figured out what we might need to what length of time we would need to help get everyone some cash management and find a place to live,” said Mayo.

The organization is providing 30-day temporary hotel vouchers for many of the displaced residents while some are receiving crisis support at the center.

Mayo said that many of the residents continue to work, but the long-term issue comes down to finding a place to live.

“Central Utah is just like everywhere else where housing is really limited. So it's just trying to find them a house and a place to rent,” Mayo said.

She said it creates problems in the five counties of Sevier, Piute, Wayne, Millard and Sanpete.

“There are people who get evicted. There are people who get arrested and they get stranded here. We have people dumped off on the freeway. So we do have a homeless, you know, situation in our area and we don't have homeless services,” said Mayo.

Before the fire, Ville 647 was meant to be part of the solution. It had recently been re-zoned so it could be developed and upgraded for low-income housing.

Because New Horizons is a domestic violence shelter, it’s limited in what it can provide as far as homeless services. The city of Richfield does not have a homeless shelter, and Mayo said her organization is doing what it can to temporarily help the unsheltered.

Others have stepped up as well, like the American Red Cross and Central Utah Food Bank.

Dean Woodbury, executive director of the food bank, said they've been able to help families with food, blankets, clothes and toiletries. But he knows more assistance may be needed in the coming weeks.

“And my guess is that after that 30 days, there's going to be some who are still going to need a lot of help. And like I say, we're glad to help them if we can,” said Woodbury.

With that in mind, he said those in need are more than welcome to visit their facilities, “that's what we're here to do, is to give them a lift. And if they need it, don't be afraid to come and ask. We're here to help and we're glad to help.”

In a statement, Ville property management said all of its previous tenants currently have temporary housing and resources thanks to local organizations.

“The community of Richfield has come together to provide clothing, blanket donations, food, toiletries, pet supplies, and financial assistance. Our team is doing everything possible to augment these services and make sure that all tenants have access and assistance in navigating these processes during this transitionary period.”

Richfield police say the state fire marshall has yet to release a cause for the fire.

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