The Struggle of Utah’s Working Poor: Single Parent Project

Local News

SALT LAKE COUNTY (ABC4 News) – In the State of Utah, approximately 18 percent of children live in single-parent households. Some of those families make too much for government assistance, but not enough to thrive. That’s where the Single Parent Project comes into play. It’s a new nonprofit organization geared towards helping single parents, such as West Jordan resident Pamela Alanis get back on her feet.

Every morning is a race out the door for Alanis and her three children. It’s a new normal she’s trying to keep with, but it’s not easy as a single parent. What led to her situation is a story of surviving domestic violence and saving her children from an abusive home with their father.

“Their dad started using drugs. He couldn’t hold a job and he couldn’t live in one place for a long time,” she said. “I couldn’t do it anymore and put my kids through that. He was becoming aggressive. Police were being called.”

After they fled, Alanis faced a mountain of debt from her third pregnancy. She had previously filed bankruptcy and had her paychecks garnished, so she decided to pick up a second job at one point to make ends meet.

“I worry that I might not be able to make my rent, my power. I worry I might not have enough gas,” she said. “My children’s father doesn’t work so I don’t get any child support.”

Additionally, she said everyone in her family has medical needs that she struggles to pay for.

“My son has high-pitch hearing loss. His hearing aids are not covered by insurance. My daughter has vision loss and her frames are not covered by insurance. Neither is dental work needed for my other son,” she said.

This type of predicament is common for many single parents in Utah. According to data from MIT, a single adult living in Salt Lake County would need to make at least $12.05 an hour for a livable wage. Add a child into the mix? That number doubles to $25.19 an hour. After two children, it jumps to $31.29 and then to $40.51 with three children.

The most expensive cost, other than housing, is childcare. The average annual amount spent on childcare for a single parent on one child is $6,797, $12,776 for two children, and $18,755 for three children.

“They’re (single parents) robbing Peter to pay Paul. They’re drowning in debt, they’re maxing out their credit cards,” said Meghann Brimhall, Co-founder and President of Operations for the Single Parent Project.

Despite the fact that Alanis is barely getting by, she said she overqualified for government assistance, leaving her to bear her family’s financial burden on her own.

“The government looks simply at your income bracket. We have some families who were only 30 cents or 60 cents over the income bracket,” said Alissa Harrod, Co-founder and President of Business Development and Marketing for the Single Parent Project.

In addition to financial burdens, Alanis said being a single parent has been difficult on her mental health.

“It’s not easy for me to just leave the kids and go do something for myself, like go for a walk, read a book, or even remember to eat,” she said. “There’s days when it’s hard to get out of bed. I have to tell my kids, ‘Mommy’s sad. But everything’s going to be OK.’”

Stories like Alanis’ prompted Brimhall and Harrod to start the Single Parent Project in January. Both have been impacted by single parenthood themselves.

Brimhall said she spent five years as a single parent, where she also overqualified for government assistance. Harrod’s mother was raised by a single parent.

“A lot of parents have lost the fight. They’re exhausted. They can’t do it on their own and sometimes they don’t know what resources are out there even to begin with research,” said Harrod. “I think we all know somebody who has experienced it. Taking that one extra person out of the equation makes a big difference.”

Alanis said she found out about the organization through social media and reached out for emotional support.

She ended up with much more than that. The Single Parent Project ended up paying for her power bill and one of her children’s school lunch for an entire year. She believes it’s a relationship she’ll be able to rely on for years to come.

“They actually care and they understand that I’m not just looking for a handout, but a support, a team,” said Alanis. “It meant so much to me the way they helped me, the way they talked to me because it wasn’t like other agencies who only help you one time.”

Although the Single Parent Project has only been operating for eight weeks, they’ve already raised $5,000 and provided services for 10 families.

As the need for their services grow and the support continues to pour in, Brimhall and Harrod said they have big plans. They’re working on opening an office and getting their official 501c3 nonprofit status.

“My biggest goal is to change lives. I want these people to be able to feel like they had somebody that believed in them. They had somebody that was willing to advocate for them, get them the help that they needed, and give them a second chance,” said Brimhall.

The Single Parent Project provides more than just financial assistance. In the last two months, Brimhall and Harrod said they’ve connected clients to partners who have provided discounted automotive services and hair care.

“My dream would be to have a housing development where single parents could come and feel welcome. Many of them live in places with bad plumbing or electrical system. It’s not safe for them or their children to live there,” they said.

For more information on the Single Parent Project, click here.

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