CHEYENNE — For Wyoming to successfully treat and reduce the number of homeless people in the state, there has to be extensive collaboration between all stakeholders and increases in funding.
Those were two big takeaways from the researcher in charge of a comprehensive study of homelessness in Wyoming. Robert Marbut with Marbut Consulting was hired using about $50,000 in funding set aside by former Gov. Matt Mead to do a months-long Homelessness Services Needs Assessment, and come up with a series of recommendations.
The goal of the project was to study how Wyoming cares for its homeless population and where the state could work to improve outcomes. Marbut presented a draft of his report Friday in Cheyenne.
He found that statewide, agencies that provide services to the homeless do an amazing amount of work with very little resources. And communities across the state provide an exceptional amount of support with donations of items like diapers, food and clothing.
One of the best things going for Wyoming is how quickly agencies responded to suggestions and recommendations he made while traveling the state over the past three months, Marbut said. Of the 135 or so recommendations he gave to agencies across the state, about 120 were either implemented right away or are in the process of implementation.
“The great thing is to be receptive to those issues is really a good sign. Because in a lot of communities, (it’s not),” Marbut said. “Every time I’ve gone into Los Angeles of late, they just fight back on every recommendation people are giving. But then I ask Los Angeles, ‘In the last five years, how is it working for you?’ The current way they’re doing it is a 20% increase on the county and city level for five years.”
Marbut said while there are many things Wyoming gets right, there are several areas of major concern the state needs to focus on. The lack of mental health providers, for both adults and children, is a major roadblock to helping move people out of homelessness.
Another issue is the state’s homeless population consists of a larger-than-normal percentage of single mothers with children and unaccompanied children.
That population tends to be products of domestic violence, or situations where drug use or abuse has driven children out of their home. And one of the biggest obstacles facing that populations is many shelters across the state don’t have the resources to separate them from single adult males.
Children can be exposed to toxic levels of stress by being housed in the same facility with single adult males, something that has a lifetime effect on their development. And Marbut found that throughout the state, the issue existed because of a lack of resources.
“A daily exposure rings that bell, and you can’t un-ring that bell. This isn’t just happening here (in Cheyenne). It’s happening everywhere across the state. And it’s because of the financial challenges,” Marbut said.
As he traveled across the state and found those situations where different segments of the population were commingling, Marbut made recommendations to move one group into a different area. At the COMEA House in Cheyenne, staff immediately collaborated with local partners to provide separation for those two groups.
That commingling was in large part due to the limited resources different agencies across the state have to provide services. Marbut said one of the biggest things that could be done on a statewide level is for state government to provide funding for the federal Emergency Solutions Grants Program, which is a source of flexible funding that can be adapted to each local community need.
While the program is run by state government, Wyoming is one of the only states that doesn’t also provide funding for the matching federal grants. Instead, local governments and nonprofit agencies provide the matching funding here.
Marbut said if Wyoming was to help fund a portion of that program, which recently sent the state $323,751 in funding, it could free up more resources on the community level to provide more services.
Beyond funding, one of the biggest steps that could create significant long-term change in the state is the fostering of collaboration. A key to success in other communities across the country is partnerships between agencies that provide care for the homeless population, and groups like medical providers and law enforcement.
Often homeless people tend to find themselves in a cycle of incarceration, emergency room visits and seeking out support for food and shelter. To break that cycle, there has to be a strong coalition built from all of those groups to actually gain traction on the problem.
Dr. James Bush, medical director Wyoming Department of Health, said trying to break that cycle can have a significant impact, not only on their quality of life, but also the overall cost of care.
By Ramsey Scott
Wyoming Tribune Eagle Via Wyoming News Exchange