CASPER, Wyo. — People still face waiting lists at shelters and low-income housing units in Casper, but code enforcement has made some progress with safety inspections over the past year.
Casper's McKenzie Apartments and the House of Hope transitional shelter closed in 2012, while the Sunshine Apartments opened. The new multiplex sits on the former site of the KC Apartments, which were closed in 2009 for code violations and demolished in 2011.
The city also rejected a low-income complex in Paradise Valley and ordered updates for a number of housing facilities, including Skyline Towers — a low-income senior housing center.
Meanwhile, federal numbers suggest homelessness in Wyoming increased by 75 percent between 2011 and 2012, according to an annual "point-in-time" count. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reported in December that Wyoming's total homeless population jumped from 1,038 to 1,813, although national homelessness numbers declined slightly overall.
"The needs haven't really changed," said Lu Ann Allhusen, executive director of the Casper Housing Authority. "What's tough is when people are in crisis, they need housing then, and not always do they get the housing through the different agencies."
The housing authority owns 75 housing units and operates assistance programs, serving more than 600 families each month. Allhusen said the waiting list for HUD vouchers has continued to grow, and the list for public housing is equally long. The voucher program had nearly 100 people on the waiting list in June, a number that ballooned to 1,200 by December.
Marilyn Dymond Wagner, executive director at Interfaith of Natrona County, said she has also noticed a steady need for housing. She estimated her number of clients increased by 10 percent between 2011 and 2012. Aside from the general surge brought on by winter, Wagner said Interfaith had an extraordinary amount of visitors in July.
"The influx of people from out of state that were here looking for jobs in oil and gas certainly attributed to that number," she said. "Then just an influx of folks from out of state, period, (who) think that Wyoming's economy is so much better than elsewhere."
Administrators at LifeSteps Transitional Housing and the Wyoming Rescue Mission reported full shelters in December, a trend consistent for most of 2012.
Brandon Espinoza, program manager at LifeSteps and former coordinator of an annual homeless count, said the family housing works off a constant waiting list. The agency attempts to refer people when possible.
"We will communicate with other organizations like Seton House, Turning Point, the Rescue Mission," he said.
This year's annual "point-in-time" homeless count, required by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development for areas that receive federal funding, is being coordinated by social workers at Interfaith. Plans are underway for the one-day tally done by communities across the nation to estimate the homeless population.
"It's going to be very well orchestrated in terms of logistics this year," Wagner said.
The 2012 count had plenty of volunteers, but social services reported a difficult time mobilizing them. To combat that problem, Wagner said the Casper Area Transportation Coalition will provide two buses for use.
Wagner also said La Cocina has offered to serve free tacos to the homeless, Little Caesars will provide pizza, and the Wyoming Food Bank of the Rockies will give out boxes of food at Set Free Ministries during the event.
HUD has also changed the rules this year regarding people who are doubled up, or staying with others because they don't have a home of their own. They will not be counted as homeless in 2013.
Wagner said she doesn't expect the change to accurately reflect the housing situation and sees it as a disadvantage for the count.
"It's going to change it dramatically, and not for the better for us," she said.
HUD began counting those who were doubled up in 2011, according to past Casper Star-Tribune reports.
The House of Hope, a shelter the city of Casper shut down after repeated code violations, has its own plans for the New Year.
Administrators of the transitional housing facility moved to Green River in late 2012 and are attempting to reopen. Bishop Charles Trimm, founder of the House of Hope, said he has identified two potential locations that would require a special use permit. The nonprofit expects to present their plans to City Council sometime in January.
Until then, Trimm said the agency will continue a partnership with Southwest Wyoming Recovery Access Programs to place people in hotels.
"I know it's a Band-Aid, but that's the best we can do until we get a permanent facility," he said.
In addition to the House of Hope, the city of Casper closed the McKenzie Apartments for code violations in March. Code Enforcement Manager Doug Barrett said the building on Grant Street is now under new ownership and in the process of being remodeled by Trinity Builders.
A North Lincoln Street multifamily unit with prior reported problems that caught fire earlier this year is also being remodeled. Barrett said the city has worked with "several other units" to bring them to code in the past year.
A priority list of housing inspections created after code violations closed the KC Apartments in 2009 is still being addressed. Barrett said the city is currently focusing on high- and medium-risk locations but notes updates made to "problem properties" as proof the program is working.
"That part of it is real positive I think for the whole community," he said.
Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com