Wyoming’s state government has never been responsible for coordinating homelessness services in the state, but that will change soon, according to Gov. Matt Mead.
State officials are close to announcing a plan to combat rising homelessness in Wyoming, said Mead, speaking to the Casper Star-Tribune editorial board last week.
The governor offered few details about the plan, except to say that “one or two” state employees would be charged with the coordination of homeless services. Wyoming is currently one of only a few states lacking a designated homelessness coordinator.
His remarks represent a victory for the state’s homeless advocates, who have long sought greater state involvement in the coordination of services for the homeless.
“We’re thrilled that he wants to take an interest in this,” said Linda Scherr, executive director of the Council of Community Services in Gillette. “It feels like it’s taken a long time.”
On the rise
The governor’s announcement comes at a time when homelessness in Wyoming is on the rise. The state’s homeless population increased by 75 percent between 2011 and 2012, rising from 1,038 to 1,813 people, according to statistics compiled by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
But the state has struggled to respond. The Wyoming Continuum of Care, a federally mandated board of government representatives and social-service providers, has been plagued by flagging membership, little communication and competing regional interests, according to members.
The Wyoming CoC continually scores poorly on the federal government’s annual assessment of state homeless coordination and, as a result, does not receive all the federal homeless assistance it is eligible to receive. Wyoming was eligible to receive $758,634 in homeless assistance under a federal funding formula in fiscal year 2012. Because of poor coordination, the state received $338,000.
Lyle Konkol, director of HUD’s Wyoming field office, called the governor’s remarks “big news.”
“Frankly, that is the only way to succeed, to put the power and coordination of the state of Wyoming behind what we do,” Konkol said. “All the states around us that have state involvement are successful.”
The Wyoming CoC is currently in the midst of transition. The organization’s longtime leader resigned earlier this year. The organization was without a lead agency until last week, when the Council of Community Services of Gillette was elected to that role by CoC members meeting in Casper.
Scherr said it is unclear what role a new state homelessness coordinator would play with the CoC, saying she hoped the state will provide the board support and technical assistance.
“Hopefully with the governor’s support on this issue, it will convince other communities to get on board and collaborate,” Scherr said.
Cathie Hughes, the CEO of SW WRAP, a Green River nonprofit social-service agency, expressed a similar sentiment. It is difficult to convince many communities to participate in homelessness initiatives with little state support, she said. That figures to change with the governor’s announcement, she said.
“It shows a more concerted effort,” she said. “It’s very exciting news.”
Mead first signaled his intent to address the issue in January, tapping Department of Family Services Director Steve Corsi to lead a homelessness task force. But it was not until recently that the task force’s direction came into focus.
“It looks like we could work better together if there was a central coordinating point, though maybe it is premature to say that,” Corsi said in an interview last week.
Mead gave no timetable for the announcement of a homelessness plan in his remarks to the Star-Tribune. He said the state needed a 10-year plan to address the issue and noted that some shelters are doing well while others are not. Going forward, the state will play a bigger role in trying to assist such providers, he said.
“There will be one or two people to share the duties,” he said.
“They will provide the coordination and help for the shelters.”