Despite having a homeless population roughly equivalent to at least three other states, Wyoming received far less federal grant money for its programs aimed at helping those experiencing homelessness.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced Thursday that Wyoming would receive $292,329 in federal money for programs across the state as part of a nationwide grant competition. While that money is approximately the same amount the state has received for the past three years, it is the least amount in the country and falls short of other states with similar homeless populations.
According to HUD’s 2017 Point-In-Time Count, 873 people were homeless in the Cowboy State during one night in January 2017. A similar count found 943 homeless people in South Dakota, 994 in Delaware and 1,089 in North Dakota. While the count is not all-encompassing, it is the measure the federal government uses to mark changes in the homeless population across the country.
Despite the similar number of people experiencing homelessness, South Dakota received more than $1.2 million in federal grant money — more than four times the amount Wyoming received. Delaware received $7.9 million, approximately 27 times more money than Wyoming.
If broken down by the homeless population recorded in the point-in-time count, Delaware received approximately $8,000 for every homeless person while Wyoming received approximate $334.
The reason for the discrepancy? The federal grant program does not take into account a state’s homeless population when divvying up the money.
Instead, the department considers a number of factors including previous funding levels, service providers’ ability to meet performance standards, whether they employ federal best practices, strategic planning and partnerships, said Christine Baumann, spokeswoman for the department’s region that includes Wyoming. A federal official in a conference call with media Thursday called it a “performance-driven program.”
While the department considers rising housing costs and requests for special projects, it can be difficult for states to increase their funding levels.
“There’s just really not a chance to leap for huge increases from year to year,” Baumann said.
Wyoming’s funding level has remained steady in the past five years, federal documents show, though it decreased from a high of $327,000 in fiscal year 2014. This year’s funding is $718 more than the previous amount.
This year’s grant money will help fund permanent housing through Life Steps, permanent housing for chronically homeless families and an information system to track homeless populations in the state.
The total number of people experiencing homelessness in Wyoming has increased every year since 2014, though some specific populations — like families and veterans — have seen improvement.
Lyle Konkol, HUD Wyoming field office director, said in December that he couldn’t explain why the number of homeless people has risen despite moderate economic growth. Konkol did not return requests for comment for this story.
He did note in December that Wyoming’s programs to help homeless people are underfunded. The lack of money means programs have to spend more time searching for other sources of money.
“Our funding is tragically low compared to other states,” he said in December.