Kristyn Decker left polygamy at age 50, but she might have left sooner if there was a place she could have lived while transitioning to another life.
Now she is trying to buy a group home for other women and children trying to leave polygamy. She hopes to secure a 5,558-square-foot home in Washington, Utah, listed for $360,000.
The home has 10 bedrooms, four bathrooms, three family rooms and a pair of kitchens. It sits on more than a quarter acre Decker described as a "beautiful, incredibly gorgeous" place. It is located about 40 minutes from the polygamous communities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz.
To secure funding, Decker has written a proposal detailing her plan and sent it to everyone in her address book. She now hopes to orchestrate a fundraiser through the HOPE Organization, a southern Utah-based nonprofit that assists victims of abuse in polygamous communities.
Though the specifics of the fundraiser remain unplanned, Decker intends to solicit small donations via the organization's website. Donors will be able to earmark the donations for housing.
Decker also has been communicating with a potential donor who may have the resources to make a large contribution. She stressed, however, that she is new to fundraising and is still pursuing leads and learning how to track down money.
Utah Attorney General's Office spokesman Paul Murphy described the need for more housing for people leaving polygamy as "critical." He said that when people leave a polygamous community, they have few resources and often nowhere to stay. Some people, particularly teenagers, are taken in by host families, but many people still "find themselves in a really bad predicament."
"I've never seen it as bad as it is right now," Murphy added, because recent purges in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints have displaced large numbers of people.
The state has devoted some resources to the housing problem, many of which stem from the Safety Net Committee. The committee, formed in 2003, is a group of government agencies from Utah and Arizona, nonprofit organizations and individuals who deal with polygamy-related issues. According to Murphy, Safety Net has allowed the state to cope with such problems as displaced polygamists, though the need still exceeds supply. Murphy said he hopes Decker succeeds because more shelters are needed.
In northern Utah, organizations such as Holding Out HELP (HOH) are already running programs similar to what Decker is proposing. Tonia Tewell, HOH executive director, said many people who leave polygamous communities eventually land in Salt Lake City, where they are taken in by host families. HOH operates transitional housing in the Salt Lake City area, typically where single families can live for up to a year while they get back on their feet and enter mainstream society, she said.
But Tewell said thousands of people have left or been kicked out of polygamous communities recently and her organization has no housing in southern Utah. She also expressed hope that Decker will succeed.
Decker's desire to establish the home stems from her own past. She grew up in Murray as part of the polygamous Apostolic United Brethren.
As a 17-year-old, she married a polygamist, began having children and "worked her life away" trying to make the lifestyle fit. Still, she had serious misgivings and in 2002, when she was 50, she walked away. "I found that the way I grew up wasn't right for me and wasn't true for me," she said. "I realized that it was abusive to me and my children."
Decker's proposal describes the home as a place to help people leaving polygamy cope with the outside world and "de-program a lifetime of dysfunctional thinking." Decker added that when she left, there were few resources like the one she hopes to establish.
"Had that been there for me," Decker said, "I may have been out sooner."
If Decker succeeds, the home would provide housing for about 24 women and children without becoming too crowded, she said. No men would be allowed. Stays would be limited Decker wants to focus on encouraging self-sufficiency but determined on an individual basis. Decker hopes to have a house mother, or possibly house parents, who live on-site to manage the facility and maintain security. She stressed that residents will have to contribute by doing chores.
For Decker, the point is to give polygamists "hundreds and hundreds" of whom are her relatives a shot at the joy and happiness she said she has experienced since leaving the polygamous lifestyle.
"I want them to realize that there is more choice than we grew up with," she said.
How to help
Activist Kristyn Decker hopes to secure funding for a transitional home that would serve people leaving polygamous communities in southern Utah. For more information on Decker, visit blog.fiftyyearsinpolygamy.com. To learn about the Hope Organization or to make a contribution, visit www.childbrides.org.