Housing advocate Tim Funk, of the Crossroads Urban Center, said cuts to the federal housing program in recent years, along with the so-called sequester budget reductions in the upcoming budget, could lead to 35,000 to 40,000 more homeless families in the United States. About 1,000 of them will be Utah families, he said.
"We've already lost 600 assisted housing units," he said. "Our concern is it could go up another 1,000."
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that number could double or triple by the end of 2014.
The average Utah family receiving Section 8 subsidies has an annual income of about $10,000, according to housing officials. Those who qualify for the program pay 30 percent of their gross income for rent, local housing authorities pay the balance to private-sector landlords through vouchers.
Utah has 19 independent housing authorities that receive funding for Section 8 .
In 2012, the federally funded program served 10,545 Utah households, according to The National Low Income Housing Coalition. This year that number dropped to 10,279. And in 2015, it will shrink to 9,634.
Of the 2,384 households served by Salt Lake County Housing Authority, 52 percent have a disabled breadwinner, 19 percent are elderly, and 46 percent are families with children, according to Jodi Parker, Section 8 manager. Of families with children, 78 percent are headed by females.
The Salt Lake City Housing Authority also serves a similar number of clients, said Terry Feveryear, executive director.
But as residents leave the Section 8 program they will not be replaced by new applicants, due to lack of funding and steadily increasing rents, she said.
"Within the last five years, our client list has been reduced by 188 families," she said. "With sequestration, we are set to lose another 160 families."
"Congress needs to realize what they are doing to society in America," she said. "These programs are critical."
How deep the sequester cuts go for the upcoming fiscal year won't be known until the end of January. But Funk said it appears to most observers that housing funds will continue to be eroded.
"Things will get much worse over the next 12 to 24 months," he said.
The impact on the children of the families who can't get permanent housing could mean they will grow up in poverty and most likely continue to live in poverty as adults.
"When kids start out with fewer options, it's tough to make it in this country," Funk said. "It's tough when you don't have a home, when you don't have a decent meal, and a chance at decent schooling."
A report released earlier this week by the U.S. Conference of Mayors forecast an increase of homelessness and hunger across the country, as Congress also reduces the federal food stamp program and declined to extend unemployment insurance benefits for more than 1 million Americans.