The Casper Housing Authority is receiving $500,000 from Casper’s 1-cent coffers to reestablish its transitional housing program for families.
The program will be based at the city-owned, housing authority-managed Lifesteps Campus. The $500,000 will support 17 family units for four years, housing authority executive director Kim Summerall-Wright said.
These units would be available to families who require short-term emergency housing, something currently lacking in the county. Transitional housing is typically used as a bridge between an emergency shelter and permanent housing, but the units at the Lifesteps campus would be available for either.
There are emergency shelter options in Casper, at both Seton House and the Wyoming Rescue Mission, but the options for family housing is limited, Summerall-Wright said. If those units are full, there’s nowhere else for those families to go.
“If a family has come to us in need of emergency housing, we’ve had to turn them away,” she said.
Families with children made up nearly 34 percent of all people who utilized transitional housing last year, according to data from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Summerall-Wright said the need for the units has been well-documented, and the program can prevent a family’s situation from getting worse.
She said usually once an individual is out of a tenuous situation and provided resources to help get them back on their feet, she won’t see them again. But once somebody is chronically homeless, it becomes harder, and more expensive, to get that person off the street.
Research from the National Alliance to End Homelessness estimates the public cost of chronic homelessness to be between $35,000 and $40,000 per individual. Transitional housing is one of the early interventions that could prevent somebody from becoming chronically homeless, according to that group.
In Casper, 11 percent of the population meets the federal poverty definition, but homelessness in the city is less obvious than in other parts of the country, Summerall-Wright said. Homelessness is not just people living on the streets. It’s also people living in motels or other temporary situations, she said.
The point-in-time homeless count required by the Department of Housing and Urban Development would suggest there are fewer homeless people than there really are, she said.
In 2018, that count turned up 639 individuals across all of Wyoming and 57 in Natrona County. That number serves as a benchmark, but it can be misleading. Summerall-Wright pointed to the housing authority’s mailbox program, which gives people without permanent housing a place to send their mail. They have 211 mailboxes, all of them are full, and there’s a 39-person waitlist.
National figures also suggest the need for shelter in Wyoming is greater than the state has been able to meet. In 2018, Wyoming was able to shelter between 50 and 69 percent of its homeless population, according to HUD data.
“I think it’s a challenge to convince the community there are homeless (people),” she said.
Summerall-Wright hopes this program will move the needle forward, even if only a small amount. The new units will be open Aug. 1 to families in need.