About three weeks ago, people driving private passenger vehicles dropped off more than a dozen wanderers from Fremont County at a homeless shelter in Casper, Wyoming. But so far, no one is owning up to making the drop.
“A community not far from here sent us approximately 15 people on a bus,” Casper City Manager Carter Napier told the legislative Joint Judiciary Committee on Monday during a public meeting there. “All of them were hardened inebriates and within 24 hours of their arrival here, with no warning, no indication … our police department had to intervene with respect to criminal activity.”
Napier clarified later in the meeting the people appeared homeless and were from Fremont County.
The Wyoming Rescue Mission in Casper confirmed the claim to Cowboy State Daily, and its estimate was closer to an influx of 30 people.
“There was a contingent of people dropped off at the mission in multiple private vehicles over a course of a number of days,” Brad Hopkins, executive director of the Wyoming rescue mission, told Cowboy State Daily in a Wednesday interview. “And the people were told we were a treatment center.”
Wyoming Rescue Mission has a discipleship recovery program that it reports as generally successful for people seeking to change their lives and get sober. But the organization is chiefly a homeless shelter, Hopkins said.
About 15 people stayed with the shelter while another 15 left for the streets, said Hopkins.
Hopkins said some of the people who chose to stay told shelter personnel that they came to Casper to escape increasing violence on the Wind River Indian Reservation.
Casper Mayor Bruce Knell, a former Fremont County resident, also confirmed to Cowboy State Daily that the new transplants are from the reservation.
But the mystery of who brought them remains.
“We have not been able to identify a single coordinating source for that (drop-off) here at the Rescue Mission,” Hopkins said.
Nobody Knows Anything
The Fremont County Sheriff and the city of Riverton both told Cowboy State Daily they did not transport any vagrants to Casper.
The Eastern Shoshone Business Council, which is the executive branch of the Eastern Shoshone Tribe, said it had not even heard of the incident.
The Northern Arapaho Business Council’s spokesman said the council has investigated the incident, and found it has nothing to do with the Northern Arapaho Tribe or its government.
Gary Michaud, manager of the Fremont County bus line the Wind River Transportation Authority, said his organization was not involved in the drop.
A church funded free bus passes for Wind River Indian Reservation residents in August, Michaud noted. But those tickets were round-trip passes to help people get around the county, not to a town outside of it, he said.
“This is the first I’ve ever heard of it,” said Michaud of the allegation of busing out homeless to another county. “That’s a head-scratcher.”
Contacted Tuesday, the Volunteers of America Center of Hope, a Riverton treatment haven, did not comment by publication time Wednesday.
Lander Assistant Mayor Rajean Strube-Fossen did not return a voicemail from Cowboy State Daily requesting comment.
Still Trying To Figure It Out
Cheryl Hackett, director of development for the Wyoming Rescue Mission, said shelter leaders are trying to learn who told the transplants the shelter was a treatment center.
“We also would like to know where this misinformation is coming from and we seek to provide solutions,” said Hackett.
The shelter exists to help people and welcomes their efforts to change their lives, but it also encourages people to seek solutions in their hometowns where possible, she said.
Hacket and Hopkins both reported that about 65% of the shelter’s guests are from Natrona County – or were, before the deluge from Fremont.
Word From The Chief
Mental illness compounds law enforcement issues with homeless people, Casper Police Department Chief Keith McPheeters told the legislative committee Monday.
McPheeters, along with Napier, characterized the city’s growing homeless population as a strain on law enforcement and the jail, saying he exceeded his jail budget last year by $800,000 to account for the spike, and even with a funding increase this year, he’s set to exceed his jail budget by $700,000.
About 25% of people booked into Casper’s jail “identify as homeless,” McPheeters told the committee. “And many of those are brand-new to our community. … They’ve just started showing up en masse.”
Napier told Cowboy State Daily in a Wednesday interview that this was a "cold drop-off." He said it's different from when the city or treatment centers anticipate newcomers and have beds and treatment programs lined out for them.
Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, voiced interest during the meeting in finding out who orchestrated the drop. He told Napier to stay in touch with him.
Committee Co-Chair Sen. Bill Landen, R-Casper, asked analysists for the Legislative Service Office to contemplate what lawmakers could do to help, ahead of the committee’s November meeting.
While Casper authorities and some business owners bemoan a growing homelessness issue, Riverton’s comparable issue consists more of vagrancy, or wanderers, though there are homeless people in the town.
Wanderers have told Cowboy State Daily recently that most of them have places to live, but they come from the Wind River Indian Reservation to the town of Riverton because alcohol is not commonly sold throughout the reservation, while Riverton has multiple liquor stores.
Riverton’s business owners since June have been coordinating and mobilizing to get better pay for police officers, to curb theft, property destruction, public indecency and other crimes.
Clair McFarland can be reached at Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com.