Here is an editorial from with viewpoints from around the state:
Homelessness report must become a call to action
From the July 28 Wyoming Tribune Eagle
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” – Matthew 25:40, NIV
Whose responsibility is it? City government? United Way? The local faith community?
Yes, yes and yes. But, ultimately, the real answer is it’s all of our responsibility to care for those in need among us. And as we’ve said here more times than we can count, Cheyenne and the rest of Wyoming have a reputation for being generous. When we learn of a neighbor in need, people are almost always willing to lend a hand.
A local waitress has a rare medical condition and needs an expensive surgery – the community rallies around her, holds a fundraiser and helps pay her medical bills. A family’s house burns to the ground, and they escape with only the clothes on their backs – friends and neighbors respond by setting up a bank account to collect donations and giving them items to replace those they lost. A severe winter storm strikes suddenly, stranding motorists in a small town without food or a place to stay – a school gymnasium becomes a temporary shelter, and local residents show up with enough homemade food to feed an Army battalion.
But there is a caveat. When it comes to helping the homeless among us, every community in the state fails to provide enough resources to meet the need. In fact, the sad truth is we’re more compassionate to our pets than some fellow humans – more willing to give generously to the local animal shelter than the local homeless shelter.
That’s because a stigma hangs like a cloud over the homeless. They must have done something bad to get themselves into this predicament, right? Was it drug use? Bankruptcy caused by living beyond their means? Or did they choose this lifestyle?
The reality, though, is far different. Homelessness can be the result of a variety of factors, many of which are beyond the individual’s control: High medical bills when the person lacks sufficient health insurance; untreated mental illness that keeps someone from holding down a steady job; domestic violence that forces a mother and children to flee a bad situation at home, just to name a few.
But whatever the reasons, it’s clear Wyoming isn’t immune. Which is why, in July 2013, former Gov. Matt Mead charged the Department of Family Services with collecting data on the number of homeless people in the state and the underlying reasons for their situation. He also asked for a 10-year plan to combat the problem.
Out of that request was born the Wyoming Homeless Collaborative, which has been working to collect better data, and coordinate resources statewide and in local communities. Before he left office, Mr. Mead also set aside $50,000 to hire a national consultant to travel the state, see the problem up close and offer possible solutions.
On July 19, Robert Marbut of Marbut Consulting held a meeting here in Cheyenne to offer his initial findings and recommendations. Those who work for agencies serving the homeless probably weren’t surprised by anything he said. For example, in Wyoming, “animal shelters in many of the communities are getting three, four, five times more than the human shelters.”
That doesn’t mean Cheyenne ignores COMEA House, the Wyoming Coalition for the Homeless, Family Promise of Cheyenne, Needs Inc., The Salvation Army and others who serve the homeless in our community. Leaders of those organizations praise residents for the response they get when they put out a special call for donations of food, diapers and clothing.
But can you imagine a fundraiser in Cheyenne the size of Fur Ball to benefit agencies serving the homeless? We sure can, but it will take a shift in priorities and a coordinated effort to turn that dream into a reality.
Which, besides funding, is the other main obstacle Mr. Marbut pointed out during his presentation: Lack of collaboration between stakeholders. Critics could argue that’s where the statewide collaborative should come in. But as with many Wyoming success stories, results will likely come when local leaders commit to solving the problem.
The question we have is whether such a commitment to addressing homelessness and the underlying issues that contribute to it can be made and then sustained. We certainly hope so, and we hope this study is the spark that gets many long-overdue conversations started.
If it’s any consolation, many of the issues faced by homeless people in the Cowboy State and the agencies trying to help them aren’t that different from inner-city Los Angeles. The good news is Mr. Marbut says folks in Wyoming have been much more receptive to his suggestions for improvement than other parts of the country. In fact, he said that during his three months traveling the state earlier this year, of the 135 or so recommendations he gave to local agencies, about 120 were either implemented right away or are in the process of being implemented.
That’s great to hear, but there’s obviously much more to be done, both at the state and local levels. Next week, we’ll drill down further into Mr. Marbut’s recommendations and offer a few of our own.