As officials from Utah and Arizona prepare for a possible influx of women and children from troubled polygamous communities along the state line, members of the public are opening their wallets and offering their homes as shelter.
“The outpouring is great in St. George,” said Robert Curran, founder of St. George-based Help the Child Brides, a nonprofit organization that fights abuses in the polygamous culture. “If there were a sudden exodus, we’re in better shape to help them. The people of St. George have really responded.”
Flora Jessop, an antipolygamist activist in Phoenix, reported a similar reaction.
“We’ve had an amazing response from the citizens of Arizona,” she said. “We’ve had donations of clothing and food and money to get these kids to safety. We’ve also had an amazing response from citizens of the Salt Lake Valley.”
Rumors of an exodus from Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., have circulated for a week in the wake of a purge by the polygamous prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS).
On Jan. 10, Prophet Warren Jeffs excommunicated about 20 prominent church members, including longtime Colorado City Mayor Dan Barlow, and ordered them to leave town without their wives and children.
The shake-up prompted several young adults to leave the communities. Advocates were expecting more to follow, especially the female relatives of the excommunicated men.
On Friday, law enforcement officers and child-welfare workers from Utah and Arizona met in St. George to prepare for any influx of residents needing help. Billboards and fliers will be used to assure them that they have a safe place to go should they chose to leave their homes.
Among those places are the DOVE Center, a women’s shelter, and the Youth Crisis Center, both in St. George. Residents leaving the polygamous communities and those who want to make donations of food, clothing or money can call Help the Child Brides at 435-674-5507.
Anyone who comes into contact with minors fleeing their homes should call either the Utah Division of Child and Family Services or Child Protective Services in Arizona, according to Paul Murphy, a spokesman for the Utah Attorney General’s Office.
The sect is an offshoot of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which condemns plural marriage.