Gov. Matt Mead on Tuesday tapped the Wyoming Department of Family Services to manage the state’s homeless services.
The announcement filled a void in Wyoming government, which previously played no formal role in coordinating homeless services in the state.
The governor said DFS will be charged with assessing data and inventory of community and state programs and creating a 10-year plan to address homelessness.
“Wyoming must focus its efforts to address homelessness. This means better coordination of existing programs and appropriate planning to tackle the underlying causes of homelessness,” Mead said in a prepared statement. “A state plan is an important step, and I appreciate the work of DFS on this effort.”
DFS will report its progress to the governor within 60 days, the governor’s office said.
Mead’s announcement represented the culmination of months of planning. The governor asked DFS Director Steve Corsi to look into the issue earlier this year after a spike in Wyoming homelessness was reported.
Homelessness increased by
75 percent between 2011 and 2012 (from 1,038 to 1,813 people), according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
As part of the announcement, Brenda Lyttle was appointed the state homelessness coordinator. Wyoming previously lacked a state employee charged with overseeing homeless services.
“The goal for DFS will be to get a clear picture of homelessness in Wyoming. Then we need to help match needs with available services and resources on a state and community level,” Lyttle said in a statement. “Nationally, there’s a problem with homelessness among veterans. As part of our efforts, we will need to look closely at how our veterans are faring around the state.”
Homeless advocates, who had long sought the creation of such a position, enthusiastically greeted the news.
“I am delighted,” said Marilyn Dymond Wagner, executive director of Interfaith of Natrona County. “I think it is going to make such a difference for central collaboration. If we now have someone who is a designated individual that we can rely on for help our homeless within the state of Wyoming, it is going to be such a win-win for everyone.”
Wyoming has continually lost out on federal homeless funding because of a lack of coordination over the years. The state was eligible to receive $758,634 in homeless assistance under a federal funding formula in fiscal year 2012 but instead received $338,000.
Robin Zimmer, director of the COMEA House in Cheyenne, said the governor’s announcement would help the state collect the money it is due.
“This is a huge jump start,” she said. “He is making a statement that it’s time to address what’s wrong. We’ve talked about it for years, but until someone at his level takes interest, we’re just spinning our wheels.”