Taking care of our own
Since the late 1990’s, the homeless problem has been referred to as a crisis and has most recently been elevated to a ‘national emergency.’ One in three Americans is one to two paychecks from joining the ranks of the homeless.
It’s certainly easy to buy into some of the myths of homelessness and spend a lot of time saying ‘not my responsibility.’
As the only state in the nation with a ‘Code of Ethics’ perhaps it’s time to look at how homelessness is affecting our community and what responsibility we have to those in need.
Be tough but fair
Last year’s Point in Time Count identified 1,813 homeless households in Wyoming, a 75 percent increase from 2011 and a 213 percent increase from 2010. Of those households, 214 are victims of domestic violence, 311 are veterans, 180 of these households have children and 1,338 households are unsheltered.
Live each day with courage
Wyoming has the 6th largest number of Homeless Veterans by Continuum of Care type and the 8th largest number of chronically homeless, but we are actually ranked #1 in the nation for the unsheltered homeless population. Not really a first place ranking our State should be proud of, but more important, is how it affects our communities.
Know where to draw the line
We have heard a lot of talk from our leaders about the private industry taking on the problem of affordable housing. It’s important to realize that we are responsible for the effects of homelessness in Casper and it directly affects each of us, not just those who are homeless.
Take pride in your work
One of the biggest effects of homelessness is the breakdown of community life itself. We are all morally affected by homelessness as we share public space with those who live in substandard conditions. Evidence is growing that homelessness creates divisions within the community as an ‘us vs. them’ mentality develops. The shame, stigma and isolation leave homeless families deeply affected by the negative perceptions of the poor, vulnerable or marginalized.
Talk less and say more
In the past 12 months, Casper has lost almost 100 units from its rental inventory without public plans to replace those units. Current rents are higher and affordable housing is becoming scarce.
The Casper Housing Authority has 75 Public Housing Units and manages 554 HUD Vouchers, which are funded at 79 percent due to the sequestration. Unfortunately, 21 percent of the housing we provide is currently unfunded, leaving 802 families waiting for housing.
Many of these families and children, who are the fastest growing segment of the homeless population, have experienced trauma prior to becoming homeless. Homelessness can exacerbate the consequences of trauma or re-traumatize a child, resulting in a cycle that is tragically damaging and costly to both individuals and communities.
In the 2010-2011 school year, 812 homeless children were enrolled in school in Wyoming and nearly 39 percent of the children in the NCSD were on free/reduced lunches. Homeless children go hungry twice as often as other children.
Remember that some things aren’t for sale
Homeless medical costs are tremendous, incarceration costs are enormous, domestic violence is rising, drug use is rampant, crime rates are higher and our community health is waning. Each of us is paying the high costs of ignoring poverty and homeless rates both morally and fiscally. Casper can no longer afford to say, "It’s not our problem."
Do what has to be done
Across this country, states, counties and cities are partnering with non-profits, housing authorities, the faith based community and school districts and have come up with new models to fight homelessness and poverty. States are releasing TANF and CDBG funds to housing organizations and cities are using bond and excess tax monies to fund housing projects.
Ride for the brand
Public housing is not a career choice, food stamps are not a way of life and poverty is something that can be overcome. It’s time to get serious about "taking care of our own!"
Always finish what you start
This is our Code of Ethics, our community, our children, friends and neighbors and it is literally more cost-effective to invest in our community’s homeless and poor, than to deny our responsibility. “Do what has to be done!”