The city of Casper, Wyoming, is confronting an unprecedented homeless situation that Mayor Bruce Knell describes as “a mess.”
“It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen,” Knell said during a recent interview with Cowboy State Daily. “It’s third-world country stuff happening in Casper, Wyoming.”
In downtown Casper, the city staff reportedly cleaned up around 500 pounds of human feces, while other homeless individuals have been occupying parks, bike paths or sleeping in their cars.
With an estimated 200 people now making the streets and parks their home, the Casper City Council is contemplating stronger urban camping and squatting regulations to address the issue.
While cities across the West grapple with escalating homelessness, the situation in Casper offers a unique microcosm for broader national trends.
“We know very well we cannot litigate our way or arrest our way out of the problem, but our police need some teeth to start dealing with the squatting,” Knell stated. “They’re just causing so many problems.”
Among the numerous issues discussed by Knell was the destruction of the vacant Econo Lodge motel, a property that Knell said was devastated by the homeless to an extent far worse than previous flood damage.
“They destroyed everything,” Knell lamented, citing that the repairs would cost millions.
As a result, the property has been condemned and boarded up by the bank that owns it.
Knell attributes a portion of Casper’s crime to the homeless population, saying, “In desperate times, people do desperate things, and unfortunately, we’re the ones left having to deal with it.”
According to Cowboy State Daily, the city council is currently considering changes to the city code, requiring suspected squatters to obtain written consent from property owners and imposing a time limit for camping on private property. Another proposal aims to prohibit camping within a certain distance of the North Platte River.
Homelessness, often correlated with mental health and substance abuse disorders, has been rising across the West, including cities like Denver and Los Angeles.
“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.”
However, Knell sees a distinction in Casper’s approach. As the city searches for solutions, a Homeless Coalition has formed with the goal of securing more federal money for local homeless relief through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
This news article was partially created with the assistance of artificial intelligence and edited and fact-checked by a human editor.