Homelessness a topic of discussion during NABC Debate

(Riverton, WY) A debate event with Northern Arapaho Business Council candidates drew a minimal audience at the Heritage Center, Fremont County Fairgrounds on Monday.

Darren Willow and Gloria Willow were the co-organizers of the debate event, with Cy Lee, CEO of Blue Mountain Associates Inc., as the Moderator. Candidates present were Keenan Goresbeck, Karen Returns To War, Dean Goggles, Stephen Fast Horse, Theresa His Chase, Preston Moss, and Lloyd Googles (present online).

“I think it went really well,“ Willow said. “I was happy that seven of the twelve showed up and that two of the others kept in contact with us to let us know of prior engagements and a family emergency. It showed all their dedication to this election. It was respectful, professional, and well-moderated, as we had planned and hoped for. All in all, it was a great event!” 

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Questions were previously reviewed by the candidates before the debate; each candidate had three minutes to respond. Lee said that audience members would have a chance to voice their questions and concerns on an open floor after the panel. On the top of the list of topics were the homeless and housing situation, drug and alcohol problems, transportation issues, Northern Arapaho assets and programs, and transparency, accountability, and communication between tribal members and their leadership.

All candidates recognized the past and current situation of homelessness and emergency housing. Keenan Groesbeck said that what he would do was “to try to find them a motel room as a temporary solution and then find out what’s going on with them, figure out their situation,” he said. “A lot of times if they’ve been evicted, it’s because of alcohol or drugs…so you’ve got to find out the whole situation to find out exactly what’s going on with them. But in the meantime, if they have little ones, younger ones…you’ve got to make sure that they’re taken care of.”

“I agree with Keenan here,” said Karen Returns To War. “We would have to provide temporary housing, however, I really couldn’t elaborate on how long or how much we would have to help because I don’t know the financial situation of the Tribe as of yet. So I agree that we would have to look for a room and get them temporarily situated. However, we also have to look at the long-term in that our families need places to go. We really need to look at a facility where we can place people and help them transition back in.”

Dean Goggles said that they would have to get them a motel for maybe a week or two weeks, but “the merchants in Riverton are really strict about some people and won’t them stay in the motels; that’s a fact,” he said. “But for (emergency) housing, I think there are 246 houses that fall under the Federal guidelines, under HUD…but as you know, every house in the villages is taken. There isn’t any place to live for anybody.”

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Stephen Fasthorse said that they would have to “find out how many individuals are displaced, how many are within a family, so you can understand possibly how many rooms you’re going to have to set up for them, temporarily,” he said. “Then find out what those circumstances were, as far as why the tribal member was evicted. That’s always a big key indicator for you to understand how this came about. Once you do so, that helps you understand where these individuals are as far as seriously taking care of themselves or not. You want to ensure that you’re providing or making available any resources that the Tribe has, program-wise. The 477 program is one that could possibly help; the CSBG program is another, and the Business Council itself. So temporarily, we let them know we’re going to set you up for at least a week or two to help you out, but in the meantime, you need to find out what is your solution, because the tribe can’t afford to just pay and pay and pay for a room week by week by week. Offer the solutions of what programs are available and then move them on, so they’re able to do the applications and get started as far as finding another place.”

Both Goggles and Fasthorse mentioned the mobile home units used during COVID. “We actually granted those to the White Buffalo Recovery Program so they could use those as sober living units,” Fasthorse said. “Again, it’s another big issue that the reservation is facing is the epidemic of drugs and alcohol. So a lot of our people who are trying to recover–whether they go to treatment or whatever–are looking for a place so they can have a chance at trying to remain sober.”

Theresa His Chase said that she had a conversation with Rick Brannan regarding the COVID camp trailers and talked about the “seriousness of the homeless situation and within our tribe,” she said. “If I do recall, the main reason the tribe bought the motel in Riverton was to provide for emergency housing, and that would’ve alleviated the homelessness and used for offering emergency placement until placement could be found. So now that that has changed, I think we need to build a facility for something such as this because I know that it’s needed. As far as the evictions go, why were they evicted? As you know, the Tribe has a zero drug and alcohol tolerance for all housing units, but again it would be the severity of the eviction. I do believe the housing authority may need a change, and I will have that discussion in order to find a solution if I am elected.”

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Other ideas were mentioned as far as funding for existing and new programs, including the building of tiny home communities that could provide both housing and job opportunities.

Attendees listen to the panel of NABC candidates at a debate on Monday night at the Fairgrounds.

One audience member, Debbie Lonebear, asked whether candidates would be available to listen to tribal members by phone, text, or in-person to address their own concerns on policies and resolutions…a subject of great concern for many who have had issues with effective communications with Tribal leadership and associated entities.

All NABC candidates on the panel said they were willing to be contacted and make themselves available to discuss all Tribal issues.

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Notice of the Northern Arapaho Elections on Thursday, November 17, 2022 has been announced on their website at: https://northernarapaho.com/

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