JACKSON, Wyo. — The very qualities of community and environment that draw visitors to the Jackson area year-round are also adding complication to an increasingly visible local issue, homelessness.
In a report shared by Cowboy State Daily, between 30 and 50 individuals are homeless in Teton County. This comes in the wake of broadened definition to the term “homeless” by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development[HUD]. Previously, a person without permanent housing for 7 days would be place under the classification “homeless.” That defining period has since been expanded to 14 days.
Additional calendar period factors affect HUD statistics, as its numbers stem from an annual “point-in-time” count of homeless persons that takes place at close of January. In Wyoming, specifically, that’s when harsh winter weather drives numbers of homeless to their lowest.
Alternatively Wyoming, and Jackson particularly, experience what homelessness researcher Robert Marbut called the “summer surge.” Marbut is a recent hire by the Wyoming Department of Family Services’ Homelessness Program for purposes of consultation, analysis, and solution recommendation.
Jackson was among the 10 cities Marbut visited.
Police Chief Todd Smith estimates the number of “traditional homeless” between 50 and 100 people in Jackson. That factors persons using homeless shelters or camping on public land, the sometimes called chronically homeless population. Chief Smith says many of Jackson’s chronically homeless struggle with mental illness, substance abuse or some combination of the two. And as competition for the area’s limited housing resources grows, those chronically homeless have become more visible, Smith said. During summer 2019, the number of homeless people camping in Karns Meadow nature preserve increased dramatically, causing concern.
Housing is a possible avenue to solution, and affordable housing is a leading community issue which has gained momentum, yet that movement does not address the chronically homeless. Instead, they focus on housing for lower- and middle-class families unable to find homes in Jackson due to the income disparity in the area, which the Economic Policy Institute said is the worst in the country.
Outreach entities serving the traditional homeless population locally are few and far between. Jackson’s Good Samaritan Mission is the single homeless shelter and it wrestles with limited resources, namely available space. In addition, Good Samaritan is a “working mission,” meaning guests of over two days must have employment as well as pay minimal per-night lodging costs.
Chief Smith says some of the area’s chronically homeless aren’t willing to follow rules, let alone pay rent. Instead, those people will find their own shelter, sometimes creating campsites of debated legality like the ones in Karns Meadows.
In April, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of several homeless people who sued the city of Boise, Idaho, in a case known as Martin v. Boise. The homeless argued that being ticketed for camping in public when they have nowhere else to go is cruel and unusual punishment. Since that ruling city officials have asked the Supreme Court of the United States to hear the case, and the SCOTUS is set to decide whether to do so on December 6.
As to how Jackson might move forward on this issue, Marbut, the homelessness consultant, has offered a series of recommendations to the state to combat its housing issues, and said Jackson in particular should focus on new housing opportunities, words which prelude with almost near certainty summer seasonal housing insecurity and increased presence of homeless persons.
Information from cowboystatedaily.com
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