Homeless Count Numbers In, Casper Testing "Housing First" Pilot

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The results from the 2014 point-in-time statewide homeless count are in, and volunteers found 1,023 people in Wyoming were homeless on January 22nd of this year.

Statewide Homelessness Coordinator Brenda Lyttle says better organization and communication between agencies helped get an improved count, and that's probably why the number was a little higher than last year's, at 953 people. However, 82% of the homeless were sheltered this year as opposed to only 53% in 2013. Natrona County had the most homeless people in the state, but also led the state in sheltering its homeless. (See sidebar for detailed breakdown of Natrona County's numbers)

But people who work closely with the poor say the official tally doesn't reflect the extent of the issue. Casper Housing Authority Director Kim Summerall-Wright says finding people who are living on the fringes of society is difficult, and Lyttle agrees, adding they need to continue to work to find the homeless, and help them trust volunteers.

The data gathered will help develop the ten-year plan for Wyoming's Road Home, due to be completed in September 2014. But some aren't waiting for the plan to start problem-solving. News 13 took a look at a pilot program by the Casper Housing Authority called "Housing First," and the people in charge of it have already seen some incredible successes in getting people back on their feet.

Case Worker Kim Perez says it's based on the principle of the old adage, "teach a man to fish." "The concept is to provide people a home first, and then start to look at everything else that caused them to be homeless," Summerall-Wright explained. The Casper Housing Authority is trying out a system they first saw in Salt Lake City earlier this year. "It is less expensive to house them first than it is to leave them on the street," Summerall-Wright added. Encouraged by the successes in our neighboring state, CHA staff moved into their facility's basement, making room to create spots for six men and four women.
Samantha Anderson, who's one of the pilot tenants, says it means the world to her. She stayed at the homeless shelter before getting a chance to come here -- now she's working on her personal goals. "I want to get my health built up, and then I want to get a job. I haven't worked in two years: I've been homeless two years," Anderson said.

The housing authority combined two positions to hire a full-time case worker, which is where Perez comes in. She's helping people like Samantha achieve self-sufficiency. "By asking them 'what's important to you,' we set goals that are realistic and important to them, which in the long run will help them get there... I find the resources to make their goals happen. I can't work harder than they do, but I will work just as hard as they do," Perez said. What she actually does varies wildly from day to day, based on individual needs. "Some folks need help with budgeting, others need counseling, some need medication," Summerall-Wright added.

The pilot program only started in March, and staff say they've already had success stories. "We've seen folks that are in training programs already, some have gone to work, we've had one graduation," Summerall-Wright said. Two women in the program are already making plans to room together in a shared apartment. Because it is a pilot, this program will end in September. Summerall-Wright says they're hoping to have more concrete data to prove the program works, and then start expanding it.