Casper’s city manager addressed a legislative committee this week asking for help with an increase in the number of unhoused individuals living in his town – including people who came from Fremont County.
A local coalition focused on unhoused issues in Casper has determined that multiple government agencies throughout the state are “sponsoring the transportation of homeless folks, who are committing crimes in their communities, to our community here,” Carter Napier told the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Judiciary Committee during a meeting this week.
The unhoused individuals “arrive without any arrangements whatsoever with service providers – without any networks that can provide them with help,” Napier said, calling it “very much a cold transfer.”
“In a very recent example, we had a situation where a community not far from here sent us approximately 15 people on a bus,” Napier said. “All of them were hardened inebriates, and within 24 hours of their arrival here in our community – again, with no warning, no indication of the services they would need help with – our police department had to intervene with respect to criminal activity that they were undertaking.
“And those folks are here today, recurring in our public safety system over and over again.”
‘Is it true?’
Wyoming Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, asked whether the recent busload of unhoused individuals came to Casper from Fremont County, as he’d read in a recent “press report,” and Napier said, “That is my understanding.”
“If (that’s) true, I find it to be just appalling,” Case said. “If Fremont County is bringing people to dump on your social services in Casper, that’s very offensive.”
Since reading the report, Case said he’s been “trying to figure out where (the bus) came from in Fremont County,” asking Riverton’s mayor and several county commissioners about the incident.
“None of them know of it,” Case said. “(So) I’d like to know more about these facts. … Is it true, or is it not?”
He asked Napier to keep him informed about any new details that might arise showing “how this was accomplished, or if it was accomplished, and what the extent of it (was), and where you think it came from in Fremont County.”
“I think it needs to be exposed,” Case said. “I have a lot of opinions about homeless people and the challenges that we all face, (but) this fundamentally fails the test of being good citizens to each other in Wyoming, and it’s despicable to me.”
Wyoming Sen. Bill Landen, R-Casper, couldn’t “confirm” any details about the alleged bus incident, but he noted that the problem involves more than “just one community” – leading him to question whether Wyoming is “really set up, as a state, infrastructure-wise,” to be able to “handle” the unhoused.
He asked legislative staffers to research the systems other states have in place to support unhoused populations so the committee can consider some “options” at their next meeting.
Case came up with one idea later in the day, wondering whether unhoused individuals with mental illnesses and substance use disorders might qualify as vulnerable adults under state statute so they could be part of the process designed to provide services to those populations.
Wyoming Rep. Lloyd Larsen, R-Lander, said the Department of Family Services usually decides who qualifies as a vulnerable adult in Wyoming, but Case was “sort of unhappy leaving it to” a state agency to make that determination.
“It’s more of a policy thing,” Case said. “Maybe we should be doing more, (and) this legislature should say we need to do more.”
Larsen agreed with Case, urging the legislature to “seriously have conversation and define the policy of how the state is going to respond to this evolution of our society that involves this population.”
He added that unhoused people suffering from mental illnesses and substance use disorders are included in the “priority population” that is slated to receive additional services through Wyoming’s community mental health centers as part of the statewide behavioral health redesign scheduled to take effect next summer.
“Hopefully (that) really relieves some of that pressure on that population,” Larsen said. “Our community mental health centers are positioned, and are getting positioned, to (do) that in more detail.”
The Judiciary Committee’s next meeting is scheduled to take place Nov. 6-7 in Douglas.