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Momentum builds around shelter for unhoused community members in Riverton with new funding

A black-and-white logo with the words "Riverton Rescue Mission," three mountain peaks, and a teepee.
Riverton Rescue Mission

The Riverton Rescue Mission is one step closer to seeing if building a shelter for unhoused members in the community might be possible. The group set out to raise $25,000 to fund a study to better understand if building a shelter would be feasible – and now that goal has turned into a reality.

Earlier this month, the City of Riverton and the Fremont County Commissioners each pledged $9,000 towards the project, for a total of $18,000. The Riverton City Council’s pledge was contingent on a matching contribution from the County Commissioners, who approved the funds on January 9.

The group will use the money to hire an outside firm that will look at funding sources, public opinion, and what amount of resources would be needed to get the project off the ground. The hope is that the shelter would be open to all, including those struggling with mental illnesses and substance abuse disorders.

In October, the Riverton Rescue Mission brought together community members and organizations that support the unhoused to discuss possible next steps for a shelter. Attendees, like police chief Eric Hurtado and representatives from SageWest hospitals, filled out a survey to better understand how the various organizations could work together.

The Riverton Rescue Mission was formed in response to recent incidents affecting vulnerable members of the community. Last winter, a fifty-two-year-old man named Richard Lonebear died of hypothermia on the streets of Riverton. Lonebear’s death was part of the catalyst for the formation of the town’s informal unhoused task force, which then grew into Riverton Rescue Mission.

At a meeting with the Fremont County Commissioners on January 9, Kara Hancock, the secretary for the Riverton Rescue Mission, said looking at the bigger picture made it clear that there’s a need for the shelter.

“Although each of those programs are wonderful, our group found that there is still a large population of our unhoused that falls between the cracks,” she said.

The group has been receiving mentorship from the Casper-based homeless shelter Wyoming Rescue Mission, which recommended the feasibility study and have emphasized the need for a new shelter to be “self-sustainable,” according to Hancock.

Hancock said the assessment would take roughly three months and would provide Riverton Rescue Mission with “an abundance of data points” to help them move forward.

County commissioner Ron Fabrizius asked Hancock why the study was needed, rather than just using the funds to address the immediate needs of the unhoused, like warm clothing and food.

“I can see a need for this shelter, but it’s kind of looking at my gas gauge. I don’t have to do a study to know I need to fill the tank up,” he said.

Hancock responded that while taking care of those immediate needs is the organization’s “first priority,” the hope is that the shelter could also have counselors and other support systems to help people work through challenges like trauma and addiction.

“We want to create a shelter that’s going to help an individual in their process of getting back on their feet, not just a band-aid on a gashing wound,” she said.

At a meeting with the Riverton City Council on January 4, Riverton Rescue Mission co-chair Tiana Payne said that, based on the study’s findings, the group will either stop their efforts or move forward with the shelter.

"If the study says no, then that's it, we're over, but if it shows a shelter is possible, then our consultant will work with us to make the shelter a reality," she said.

Additional funding for the feasibility study came from the Riverton Peace Mission, as well as other individuals and community organizations.

Hannah Habermann is the rural and tribal reporter for Wyoming Public Radio. She has a degree in Environmental Studies and Non-Fiction Writing from Middlebury College and was the co-creator of the podcast Yonder Lies: Unpacking the Myths of Jackson Hole. Hannah also received the Pattie Layser Greater Yellowstone Creative Writing & Journalism Fellowship from the Wyoming Arts Council in 2021 and has taught backpacking and climbing courses throughout the West.
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