A rising homeless population is wreaking havoc on the second-largest city in Wyoming, the mayor claims.
Casper, Wyoming — located near the center of the state — is normally home to approximately 60,000 residents, making it the largest city in Wyoming except for the capital city of Cheyenne, which has 65,000 residents. However, according to Mayor Bruce Knell, some 200 homeless persons have recently moved into Casper, causing millions of dollars in damages, especially at a vacant motel.
Last November, severe flooding occurred at an Econo Lodge in Casper after pipes froze and then burst. The first floor of the 300-room motel was flooded with so much water that even the electrical switch panel ended up submerged. The building was soon afterward condemned, and the bank that owned it boarded it up in the hopes of keeping trespassers out.
The move didn't work. Homeless vagrants — some of whom may have even been bused into the city — managed to break into the vacant motel, causing even more damage.
"They destroyed everything," Mayor Knell said, according to the Cowboy State Daily. "It’s horrible."
"They have destroyed this business," Knell continued, according to the Daily Mail, which offers several photographs of the damaged motel. "... You cannot wrap your head around what happened to that hotel."
The significant damage at the vacant motel is not the only problem caused by the homeless. Knell also reported that members of city staff have had to clean up about 500 pounds of human waste deposited in the downtown area of Casper. Local parks and bike paths have also been affected by the vagrants.
"It's like nothing I've ever seen," the mayor said. "It's third-world-country stuff happening in Casper, Wyoming."
Despite the damage, Knell still insisted that "we cannot litigate our way or arrest our way out of the problem," likely because being homeless is not illegal per se. However, many of the behaviors associated with homelessness are illegal, and Knell hopes that the city council will implement new measures which will help curtail those behaviors.
Some of the proposed measures include requiring would-be squatters to receive authorization from property owners first and limiting the time that squatters can remain on a property, even if they've been given permission to stay.
"Our police need some teeth to start dealing with the squatting," Knell said. "They’re just causing so many problems."
Many of Casper's indigent population also suffer from mental illness and/or addiction issues, both of which can prevent them from taking up temporary residence at Wyoming Rescue Mission, the city's homeless shelter.
"There’s a certain part of the homeless population, whether substance abuse or mental illness, that is getting them to where they don’t want to conform to society’s rules," Knell said. "When they do that, they’re not allowed to go in the shelter, which means they’re just out and about in our community, raising hell."
Whatever the cause, city residents are becoming increasingly frustrated with the growing problem. To address some of their concerns, last summer, the city council established the Homeless Coalition, a group of local leaders designated to examine the problem more closely and suggest solutions.
Members of the coalition presented some of their findings at a city council meeting in June. Their recommendations included issuing administrative warrants, forcing clean-ups, and demolishing abandoned buildings.
"The City's response to homelessness should seek to understand and to mitigate the suffering of the homeless people in our city," a city memo about the meeting read in part, "at the same time, it should seek to minimize the negative impacts that homelessness can have on public spaces, commerce, and the city as a whole."
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