United Way of Laramie County set a goal of becoming one of the top 5 healthiest counties in Wyoming by 2025. Currently sitting at 16 of 25 counties (yikes), we identified a few community level indicators to help us reach that goal; increase graduation rates, decrease number of children on free and reduced lunch, and decrease homelessness. As we acknowledge that meeting the most basic needs; food, clothing, shelter, is a top priority when attempting to reach a healthier community, decreasing homelessness is a crucial goal.
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Wyoming had approximately 639 individuals experiencing homelessness. The breakdown of individuals is as follows;
- 77 family households
- 47 Veterans
- 82 unaccompanied young adults (aged 18-24)
- 46 individuals experiencing chronic homelessness
We know we cannot move the needle on our own. We partner with local organizations such as COMEA and Family Promise to help us reach our goals. COMEA focuses on addressing the urgency of fulfilling the most basic needs and then moves into case management and transitioning out of the shelter. Whereas Family Promise sole focus is on families with young children, they partner with faith-based organizations to shelter families on a week to week basis.
The work these organizations do to fight homelessness is essential, but the work isn’t without its own challenges. Just before leaving office, Governor Matt Mead awarded $52,000 to hire a national consultant, Dr. Robert Marbut, to review Wyoming’s current services to the homeless population. Dr. Marbut started at COMEA, being that it is the largest homeless shelter in the state. Dr. Marbut identified several things that COMEA was doing well but did identify that their family dorm was potentially exposing children to trauma as they comingled with adults in the shelter that may be working through mental illness, substance abuse, and trauma of their own. Upon this report coming back, COMEA took the bold step of no longer taking families into the shelter until a solution could be identified. COMEA’s Executive Director, Robin Bocanegra, stated “Although some of the recommendations were a challenge to incorporate, we believe COMEA and our community will be better served by these changes”.
So, where does that leave the families in need of shelter as the colder weather encroaches. Family Promise does provide services to families with children, but they require background checks and have waiting lists, creating a need for a more immediate solution. As COMEA works to identify separate spaces to serve families in, we are left with a gap in services to this vulnerable population. It is times like these that we most need our community. Will you step up? Will you join the fight? Will you live United? Donate today to make a difference.