Home on the Range: Homelessness and Affordable Housing in Wyoming, Part 1

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Casper, WY -- Homelessness in Wyoming isn't something you may see everyday. But the fact is, based on 2012 Point-In-Time counts, Wyoming ranks worst in the nation for its rate of unsheltered homeless.

In part one of "Home on the Range," News 13 looks at who the homeless are, and how they are surviving on the edges of our community.

You may remember five-year-old "Ninja Dorian" as Casper's police chief for a day. Taking on the job was one of the bucket list items he compiled when his family learned his brain cancer was incurable. There's another item on his list though: "to have my own bedroom," said Dorian.

Dorian, his brother and baby sister, mom and grandma have been living in a camping trailer for the last two months, in their family's yard.

Carolyn Hackworth, Dorian's Grandmother says it came to light when the police chief came to pick Dorian up for his day of policing. "He saw. He saw what we were hiding from everybody," Hackworth said.

The family let News 13 in for a look at the kind of toll medical and associated travel expenses have taken on one mother and daughter. "They told [my daughter] that they would either fire her or she needed to resign because she was spending too much time with Dorian's medical stuff," Hackworth explained.

That children are the ones homelessness or inadequate housing frequently affects isn't news to local relief workers. Greta Hinderliter is Natrona County School District's McKinney-Vento Homelessness Liaison. "The children often don't have a choice in their parents' decisions and so they deserve a warm place to go at the end of the day, and a diploma, and their education is so important to break that cycle of living in poverty," Hinderliter said.

"Yesterday I worked with a mom who had to sleep in the car with her first-grader because the car wouldn't start... it's really a domino effect," Hinderliter added.

Her entire budget basically consists of her salary. Everything else, local individuals and businesses donate. "When you are homeless, getting to school is not your highest priority, it's survival," Hinderliter said.

Of course adults are homeless as well. There are also the mentally ill and those with substance abuse problems. But Casper Housing Authority Executive Director Kim Summerall-Wright says they're not the majority: "we have a lot of families, a lot of veterans, and some folks that really should not be on the streets in Casper, Wyoming."

Dorian's family's story has a happier ending for now. When the Casper Housing Authority heard of their situation, they were able to put them in contact with the V.A.: mom is a wounded warrior. "They called us and said 'if you can be here in 20 minutes we have a house voucher for you!'" Hackworth said. And the best part? There's a room for Dorian.

Relief workers say another big reason so many families end up in temporary situations like motels or camping trailers is an insufficient amount of affordable housing in Wyoming. Tuesday night, watch News 13 at ten to see some programs that are helping, and why federal budget cuts mean they're having to roll back services.