Shawn O’Brate, Staff Writer
RIVERTON – Many different problems plague the city of Riverton and all of Fremont County but nearly all of them take a backseat to the homeless situation that has reared its head over the past decade. Addressing the systemic roots of the issue is complex, but last week there were major steps taken to move forward and help the unhoused in Riverton and on the reservation.
The first ever Summit for Our Unhoused Neighbors took place on Thursday and Friday with every seat taken by those around the community willing to try and help those who need it most.
The Riverton Peace Mission (RPM) was responsible for putting together the summit after months of working to make sure that the unhoused around them had everything they needed to survive the brutal winter that has taken place around the county. Not only did they discuss how the winter takes its toll on the unhoused, but they also showed that Arapahoe currently has the third largest caseload in the state of unhoused children taken out of homes and displaced.
RPM knew that the two-day event would be well attended but even some of its board members were surprised to see just how much support flooded through the doors.
“As soon as we posted it people reached out that they want to be a part of it or asked how can they help,” Nicole Wagon of RPM said. “We’re really happy about the turnout … We have Volunteers of America, Veterans Services, Eagles Hope based out of Riverton, White Buffalo, Wind River Cares, people from Cheyenne and Colorado … There’s a lot of representatives from different programs that just want to help.”
Tables were set up around the Blue Sky Room at the Wind River Casino with vendors and helpful organizations crowding each one to try and make sure that those around Arapahoe, Riverton and Fremont County in general knew they were there to assist wherever they could, including the White Buffalo Recovery Center helping those with alcoholism and addiction or the Eastern Shoshone Victim Services helping those who have been abused or abandoned.
“Fixing this is not going to happen overnight but at least we’re adjusting the problem, showing it to people and building bridges with the city to help come up with a solution,” Wagon said.
Among all the stakeholders gathered were a panel of people who are unhoused themselves, who provided insight into their lives. The panel included local students that had either become unhoused, abused, orphaned or found their way into a foster home system due to their parents’ being arrested or evicted. They attend Arapahoe Charter High School (ACHS) and they are not the only unhoused youth to be lucky enough to say they can still get their diploma.
“I knew that some of them had those issues so I wanted to make sure we got a couple of them to talk,” Leslie Spoonhunter, a board member for both the RPM and ACHS, said after moderating the panel. “We had a great team come up and they were nervous, they’re scared, they don’t want to tell their story because they’re embarrassed but I thought it was important for them to get that out because they’re living it every day and it’s important for people to understand that’s going on with our youth.”
One of the unhoused students, Trinity Yellowfox, has gone from home to home as a foster child and has lived without running water or electricity for weeks at a time before. Every day she would find ways to try and pay for some gas for a generator that might keep them warm for a few hours, after that she would simply have to grin and bear it.
“Every day we would give more than what we received,” Yellowfox stated. “We’d hardly ask for help because almost everybody would not help us, so why bother asking? But you have to ask for help, even if it’s embarrassing.”
On top of the youth that spoke there were single mothers, grandparents and others that had either lost custody of their children or were moving from transitional housing to transitional housing. They exposed just how hard it is for those that have children or have been trying to find a job without a home to put on the application.
“Most homes don’t take children so the only option is to go out of town to shelters that do,” Daylene Robertson said with tears in her eyes. “I’ve been putting applications out everywhere but without an income you can’t pay rent … You need a job to find a place and you need a place to find a job. It’s a vicious cycle.”
After multiple saddening stories that tugged at the heartstrings of every conservative and liberal in the room, there were words of hope at the end of many testimonials that were almost meant to inspire those unhoused to never give up.
“It’s not how you fall, it’s how you get up,” Robertson said. “Talk is cheap, anyone can do that. If you want to make a difference you need to take that first step.”
Thursday and Friday’s journey into the life and mind of the unhoused around Riverton made it a much more real problem staring at the citizens of the reservation and Fremont County in the face. And even though it won’t be solved in one night, there are plenty of avenues that were explored by the summit that could help alleviate some of the major problems plaguing our communities.
If you’d like to help by donating time, money, blankets, tents or anything else you can do so by contacting RPM on Facebook, going to rivertonpeacemission.org or mailing them at PO Box 255 in Riverton.
Keep reading the Ranger for more on the Summit, and the many organizations working to ensure everyone in Fremont County has a safe place to call home.