Riverton’s Day Drinkers Agree With Wyoming Lawmaker: They’re Not Homeless

As a Wyoming legislative committee discusses $500,000 to build a homeless shelter in Riverton, a state lawmaker said the town's wanderers aren't homeless, they've come to town to drink. The wanderers generally agree.

CM
Clair McFarland

November 07, 20235 min read

Adele Mandam and her husband Morrie Sunrhodes said they have a home, they just prefer not to indulge their addictions near their families.
Adele Mandam and her husband Morrie Sunrhodes said they have a home, they just prefer not to indulge their addictions near their families. (Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily)

A Wyoming legislative committee heard a plea Tuesday for a $500,000 grant to build a homeless shelter in Riverton.  

But Riverton Republican state Rep. Ember Oakley noted that most of Riverton’s wandering population have homes: they’ve simply come to town to drink alcohol.  

Oakley spoke with Wyoming Rescue Mission Executive Director Brad Hopkins during Tuesday’s public meeting of the legislative Joint Judiciary Committee. Hopkins urged lawmakers to consider giving $500,000 toward the startup of a new homeless shelter in Riverton, where many wanderers are visible in public spaces.  

Hopkins said he’s been hearing from community leaders that there’s “quite a bit of interest in Fremont County of starting their own homeless shelter.”  

Riverton Police Department Chief Eric Hurtado also confirmed to Cowboy State Daily that he’s consulted with different groups on the prospect of starting a homeless shelter.  

Hopkins continued, saying he was in Riverton last Wednesday.  

“I saw firsthand … what a community is like that does not have a homeless shelter. Some pretty drastic needs there,” said Hopkins. “And I’d sure love the committee to figure out how to seed fund a half million for that group to leverage and spring things forward.”  

Not Homeless 

Oakley countered, saying most of Riverton’s wanderers choose to come to town from the Wind River Indian Reservation, where alcohol is generally not legal to sell.  

“It’s put under this, like, headline of homelessness, but the reality is, in Fremont County almost the entire group you’re talking about has a home. Interview them,” said Oakley. “They don’t want to go (home) because there’s not alcohol on the reservation (or) their family won’t allow it. So, they congregate in City Park. And they will tell you this themselves.”  

So, Interview Them 

Cowboy State Daily has been interviewing Riverton’s vagrant population for weeks as part of an ongoing series on local business owners bonding together to find solutions to both vagrancy and crime.  

The majority of vagrants interviewed do not consider themselves homeless.  

“We have homes,” Adele Mandam told Cowboy State Daily in late September. “It’s just the way our lifestyle is. We respect our homes, to not take that over there; our addiction.”  

Mandam said she respects her home as a place where both elders and children live. “So, we leave that (addictions) out of there.”  

Her husband Morrie Sunrhodes agreed.  

Another wanderer, Patrick Arthur, told Cowboy State Daily in late July that he comes to City Park because he likes to drink and being in town is an escape from tension at home.  

Many wanderers are in the same situation, he said.  

“Their families are, like, against alcohol and drug use or whatever, so they tell them, ‘If you want to live that way, go out,’” said Arthur.  

Patrick Arthur spends a lot of time in public places around Riverton.
Patrick Arthur spends a lot of time in public places around Riverton. (Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily)

Tribal Homeless Shelter 

Another woman in the park, Kristen Lee, told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday that she and her companion lived with his family, but the multi-generational home was too crowded, so they went to stay in a homeless shelter run by the Northern Arapaho Tribe.  

The Northern Arapaho Tribal government’s spokesman confirmed Tuesday that the tribe’s health clinic offers homeless sheltering.

Lee said people can stay at the shelter for up to three months and that she and her companion are saving for a home of their own.  

  • Kristen Lee is one of the few in Riverton's City Park who said she doesn't currently have a home.
    Kristen Lee is one of the few in Riverton's City Park who said she doesn't currently have a home. (Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily)

Still Drifting Into Casper 

The Wyoming Rescue Mission received an influx of residents from Fremont County, specifically the Wind River Indian Reservation in late summer after someone dropped 15-30 hardened inebriates at the Casper shelter.   

The influx has continued over the last four months, doubling the shelter’s usual amount of Fremont County residents, Hopkins told the committee. 

Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, bristled at the drop off, calling it “patently illegal.”  

“I’m still trying to get to the bottom of how individuals are transported from Riverton to Casper but nobody fesses up to that,” said Case.  

No More New Drugs 

Committee Co-Chair Sen. Bill Landen, R-Casper, rounded out the discussion by saying lawmakers should keep looking for ways to help people in need, especially where mental illness is involved.  

“We, frankly, don’t have enough facilities to take care of the mental health, substance abuse problems we have in our state,” said Landen. “Everything I read says we face a potential avalanche of populations that, frankly, need all the help we can give.” 

It was a notion that Hopkins had voiced earlier in the meeting. He also said he strongly opposes the legalization of any new drugs in addition to alcohol because society is still reeling from alcohol abuse. Hopkins said 75% of crimes in Casper have a nexus to alcohol.  

“We currently don’t have our act together when it comes to alcohol,” said Hopkins. 

Clair McFarland can be reached at Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com.

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Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter