January count showed some seven dozen homeless people here; The number is actually higher, one advocate said

(Fremont County, Wyo.) – A “Point in Time” count of the homeless in Fremont County this past January revealed a total of 80 homeless persons. Among those 80 persons, 67.5 percent, or 54 individuals, were unsheltered, or living on the streets, according to a Wyoming Department of Family Services report issued Friday. But is that the total number of homeless in the county? One local homeless advocate said the numbers are much higher.

“Our problem here lies with people who are house surfing, or families that are doubled or tripled up,” said Dana Flint, the PATH Grant* Coordinator in Fremont County. “This is where are problem is. We don’t have enough low income housing to support people here.” Flint hopes the count this year will help raise awareness of the problem.

Statewide, all 23 counties and the Wind River Reservation participated. The tally showed 1,023 individuals who were homeless on January 22nd. Of those, 18 percent, or 194 individuals, were unsheltered.

“This year, we believe we got a more complete count of our homeless in Wyoming,” said Brenda Lyttle, Homeless Services Coordinator for the Department of Family Services. “We had folks completing the counts in every county of the state.  Next year will be even better.”

Flint agreed that the local count was better this year. And she said not all of the homeless are what most people’s perceptions are. “We can’t blame the homeless problem on alcoholism, either,” she said. “The shelter in Riverton does not allow anyone who has been drinking to stay there. And when you count up the number of available beds from the shelter, the Center for Hope, and Reservation programs, it doesn’t even come close to 80 people.

Flint also said the numbers released today by the state were somewhat misleading, as they only included specific criteria required by the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD. Lyttle said the homeless count is used in calculating HUD funding for Wyoming, informing grant applications by non-profit service providers, mapping the needs of the homeless in Wyoming and identifying areas around the state that need increased services. “When we get the non HUD definition numbers to show, that will be more of a jaw dropper,” Flint said. “Those numbers are hidden here.”

Although the counts provide little detailed information about those who experience homelessness, communities typically follow up by collecting other data throughout the year so they can target specific strategies for youth, veterans, elderly or other groups, Lyttle said.

Flint said past homeless counts only included the local homeless shelter population, but this year a comprehensive effort was undertaken throughout the county. Locally, the One Stop Help Center in Lander and the Volunteers of America-Northern Rockies’ Center for Hope and the Good Samaritan Shelter in Riverton assisted in the count along with numerous other agencies including the Fremont County Solutions Committee, The Northern Arapahoe and Eastern Shoshone Tribal Health agencies, the Tribe’s respective suicide and drug prevention programs, Eastern Shoshone Recovery, Eastern Shoshone 477 Program, The Wyoming Association of Churches, St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Dubois, Fremont County’s Prevention Management Organization and St. James Episcopal Church in Riverton.

*The PATH grant provides financial assistance to states to support services for homeless individuals who have serious mental illness or serious mental illness and substance abuse. The program locally operates out of the Volunteers of America-Northern Rockies, Center for Hope in Riverton.

The statewide tabulation is copied below:

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