The Riverton Peace Mission will hold a two-day Summit for Our Unhoused Neighbors next month in the Blue Sky Room at the Wind River Casino.
The March 16-17 event will “provide an opportunity for collaboration by participants coming together to address key issues facing our unhoused neighbors in Fremont County,” according to a press release.
“We see people die because they have no safe place to go,” RPM co-chair, summit organizer, and Northern Arapaho Tribal member Allison Sage said. “Poverty, addictions, untreated health conditions, community violence and racism intersect, leading members of our families being without shelter and the help they need.”
Riverton used to have a homeless shelter, Sage said, and a “detox center” was available where people could receive support services even if they were under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
But now, both of those services are unavailable to the community.
Instead, Sage said, “the City of Riverton locks up public restrooms at night” and the effort to “‘clean up Riverton’ puts a priority on looking good above treating our people with dignity.”
“We need to do better,” Sage said.
The upcoming summit has been designed to allow for “maximum input among participants seeking to develop a better future for the unhoused in Fremont County,” the press release states.
The first day will begin with a panel made up of Native Americans who have experienced being without shelter – including teenagers, organizers said.
“The panel will provide the other participants insights on what it’s like to not have anywhere safe to go and what minimum level of services could help to preserve individual dignity and sustain life,” the press release states.
Attorney Ann M. Miller will provide the keynote luncheon speech that day, sharing her experience using a “holistic approach that addresses unmet basic needs” in order to break “the cycle of serial incarceration that often leads to being unhoused,” according to the press release.
Miller has been with the Tribal Defenders Office of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes on the Flathead Reservation in Montana for 26 years, serving as the managing attorney for 16 years, the press release says.
During her tenure, the Tribal Defenders Office implemented an “innovative in-house service for clients with co-occurring mental illness and chemical dependency and adopted a holistic defense practice,” creating the Flathead Reservation Reentry Program in 2015 to provide “interdisciplinary, supportive services for tribal members returning to the reservation from incarceration,” according to the press release.
Services offered through the Tribal Defenders Office now include “mental health client advocates, cultural mentoring, and permanent supportive housing,” the press release states.
Miller also served on Montana’s Public Defender Commission for six years and Montana’s Statewide Reentry Task Force for two years, organizers said; she currently serves on the Advisory Board for the Justice Center, Council of State Governments, and she is the 2021 recipient of the American Bar Association’s Dorsey award recognizing legal services to the indigent.
Wind River Cares
Another speaker during the summit will be Richard Brannon, CEO of Wind River Family and Community Health Care (Wind River Cares) on the Wind River Indian Reservation.
The press release says Brannon will discuss a program Wind River Cares recently launched to serve vulnerable individuals and families, “accepting them as they are as voluntary clients” and providing a “health care model for addressing the needs of those without shelter.”
“I want to cooperate with others so that more can be done,” Brannon said. “The Riverton police are bringing people to us who need our help. This is something we can work on together.”
The Rev. Bob Garrard, a retired pastor from First Presbyterian Church in Cheyenne and board chair of the shelter program Family Promise of Cheyenne, will talk about the churches that came together with other organizations in his city to provide services for the unhoused, offering children and families “safe shelter, resources, and education, meeting people where they are,” the press release states.
“Programs need to be developed at the community level,” Garrard said. “What works one place, may not work somewhere else. But I can tell you how, by coming together, we were able to make this happen for us in Cheyenne.”
On the morning of March 17, Rosa Salamanca, a conciliation specialist with the U.S. Department of Justice Community Relations Services, will help facilitate discussion for a plan about “where we go from here,” the press release states.
“This Summit is only a next step in the process to provide a holistic approach to address the causes of people being without shelter, not just the symptoms, and in a way that is respectful of the dignity of every person including traditions and culture,” organizers said.
Summit participants are asked to commit to attending the event from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. Thursday, March 16, and 8 a.m. until noon on Friday, March 17.
Attendees are also asked to commit to “continue to work afterwards to find meaningful solutions in Fremont County and for the Wind River Indian Reservation for our unhoused neighbors,” organizers said.
“The Riverton Peace Mission especially encourages service providers, faith leaders and local government and tribal officials to attend, including law enforcement,” the press release states.
Pre-registration is required here.
There is no cost to attend the event, but organizers said donations are appreciated.
Breakfast will be provided both days, according to the press release, and lunch will be provided March 16.
Vendor tables are also available upon request at the registration website.