COLORADO CITY, Ariz. – A year ago, Arizona and Utah officials pledged a new effort to aid women and children who may face abuse in a border-straddling polygamist enclave.
They are slowly making good on that promise, though skeptics say making inroads in the community, whose residents rarely have anything to do with outsiders, will be difficult.
Arizona has opened the Mohave County Multi-Use Facility in a gray modular building on the outskirts of Colorado City. It is the first time state government has had a presence in the town, which with its much smaller twin, Hildale, Utah, is home to some 10,000 members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
The modest building currently houses just two offices – that of Kandice Adams, a victim advocate, and a Department of Employment Services caseworker able to assist with such programs as food stamps and child care.
Other offices – a victim interview room and work spaces for law enforcement officers, county and state attorneys and child protective service investigators – remain unused, lacking even desks and chairs.
It has been slow going because of trouble getting land and then utilities to the site, said Pete Byers, the Mohave County supervisor whose district includes the twin cities. Also, a local construction crew first hired to set up the building walked off the project after learning of its purpose.
And while Byers doesn’t buy into the perceptions of rampant fraud and abuse problems among FLDS members, he thinks it makes sense for the state of Arizona to have a presence there.
“I don’t want any chaos there,” Byers said. “It might change things, make things better. It may stop some of the pressure on them.”
Whether residents will take advantage of the services at the facility remains to be seen, he acknowledges.
“I’m not sure they will, but we don’t know that, and we can’t sit with our head in the sand and never try anything,” Byers said.
Elaine Tyler, a volunteer with Hope for the Child Brides in St. George, had suggested the building include an office for the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, which many in the community rely on. Currently, women residing in Hildale pick up food vouchers in La Verkin or St. George; those in Colorado City can visit a WIC office in town.
Butthere is no push to relocate those services to the new building.
“If they have something like that the women will go in there and then if they wanted to report abuse would be able to do so without looking like going in for that,” Tyler said. “If they just have law enforcement, they won’t.”
Utah, in the meantime, has just received a two-year, $700,000 federal grant that will be used to beef up domestic violence services in the southwestern portion of the state.
Among other things, the money will be used to staff a domestic abuse hot line around the clock, add a deputy to the Washington County Sheriff’s staff who will focus on the twin cities and increase security at the Dove Center, a domestic violence shelter in St. George.
Utah officials vowed last January to erect a billboard publicizing the hot line and related services, but it has yet to materialize.
“It’s still a hope,” said Paul Murphy, spokesman for Attorney General Mark Shurtleff. Murphy said Mohave County has offered to let their Utah counterparts work out of the multi-use facility. “We’re hoping that it will be a place where people can go to get help and that it will be used by law enforcement and social services on both sides of the border,” he said.
But for now, Arizona is going ahead alone.
Adams said she is still in set-up mode, focused on contacting locksmiths, hardware stores, medical providers and motels in St. George and Hurricane whose services may be useful in a domestic violence situation.
Several weeks ago, Adams and other officials met with more than 100 residents of Centennial Park, a separate polygamist community just south of the twin cities, to explain services available at the new center and answer questions.
“It was very informative,” said Linda Earl, of Centennial Park. “They gave us a lot of good information and they answered a lot of questions. It helped them, too, because it let them see we are interested in helping, not in creating a problem.”
Earl said Centennial Park residents are being encouraged to use services at the facility if they have a need. “I definitely think our people will use it,” she said.
So far, there have been no requests for help and Adams, a former police officer, has kept her distance from the twin cities.
“I’ve had phone calls,but no calls out yet,” she said. “They know we are here. My hope is if they need me, they will call me.”
Skeptics expect there will be little demand for Adams’ services from residents of Hildale or Colorado City.
For one thing, any domestic violence incidents are currently handled by law officers who are members of the FLDS church.
FLDS church members, who are led by 49-year-old Warren Jeffs, shun outsiders. Their disdain for government officials stretches back to 1953, when Arizona officials staged a raid that proved to be a public relations disaster.
Some 263 women and children were kept in state custody for about two years, after which they returned to Short Creek, as the area was then known. Approximately 36 men were prosecuted for polygamy, but all eventually returned home.
Marvin Wyler, who still lives in Colorado City despite dropping out of the FLDS church in 2001, compares the situation to LDS Church prophet Brigham Young’s effort in the 1850s to establish a safe house for women who wanted to leave polygamy.
“Hardly anyone came,” Wyler said. “As it stands, I don’t think there will be muchuse [of the new facility]. Unless things change, and people lose confidence in Warren Jeffs.”
Until the past year or so, both Utah and Arizona maintained a mostly hands-off stance when it came to the flourishing polygamist community. Women and children who experienced abuse or wanted to leave the twin cities have relied instead on anti-polygamist activists.
And activist Flora Jessop is among those who believe they still will.
“Nobody is going to go there,” said Jessop, who lives in Phoenix. “They’ve already been told if they go there they will lose their families. Nobody is going to walk through the doors of it. It will stay empty.”