Wyoming’s homeless population has grown amid the state’s economic downturn, bucking a national decline.
There has been a 14.1 percent increase in the number of homeless families since 2015, according to new figures from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
During a count performed on a single night in January, local agencies reported 857 people were homeless, a 48 percent increase from 2010.
Most of the people, 491, were living in transitional housing programs or in emergency housing. The remaining 366 were considered to be unsheltered, in other words living in inadequate conditions such as cars, parks, and under highway bridges.
Homelessness in Wyoming is affected by multiple factors including the economy, which in Wyoming has staggered amid a slowdown in the energy sector.
“It is a large factor,” added the Salvation Army’s Center of Hope’s Rose Mertz. Because of layoffs in the oil industry, “People making good money can’t make even minimum wage.”
When the economy is bad, homeless programs care for more people due to job cuts. Wyoming’s workforce had dropped by more than 2,100 workers since last year.
Due to the downturn in the economy, “more people are homeless than last year,” says the executive director of Seton House, Deanna Frey. “We need to see what the economy is doing to the people in our community.”
Some shelters, such as the Central Wyoming Rescue Mission, have reported a rise in the number of homeless men.
“The trend has always been that way,” said Central Wyoming Rescue Mission communications and events coordinator Michael Cavalier.
But at places such as Seton House, a self-sufficiency program for single parents, mothers are more common.
Addressing homelessness means finding safe and affordable permanent housing, said regional administrator Rick M. Garcia.
“Continuing to fund our local continuums in the work they do is crucial for our shared goal to prevent and end homelessness throughout the Rocky Mountain Region,” he said in a statement.
Addressing the underlying issues of homelessness is also key, said Frey.
“It is families who are homeless today,” said Frey. “They have wonderful hearts and wonderful dreams. They’re not losers, they’ve had problems. They are people first, not homeless people.”
To support Wyoming homeless housing and service programs, HUD awarded a $291,000 grant that will be split among five homeless support programs.
The grants will be used to better serve homeless people in Wyoming, said Lyle Konkol, HUD Wyoming field office director. “We need to house them, stabilize them and provide them with services.”
“We know how to end homelessness and will continue to encourage our local partners to use the latest evidence to achieve success. These grants support proven strategies to end homelessness once and for all,” said HUD Secretary Julián Castro in a news release.