City, County Groups Seek Help in Addressing Homelessness | South Dakota News

City, County Groups Seek Help in Addressing Homelessness | South Dakota News

By SIANDHARA BONNET, Rapid City Journal

RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) — Augostine Rosales said he’d likely be dead if it wasn’t for the Cornerstone Rescue Mission.

Rosales never thought he or his siblings would amount to much of anything growing up poor with an alcoholic mother in Rapid City and later in Colorado.

He spent 15 years in prison and got out in 2013. In 2019, he became homeless trying to keep up with child support and paying $1,000 a month in rent.

Rosales said he worked at Que Pasa for four years as the cook when things went south. He quit in January. In December 2019, he applied for a job as the cook at Cornerstone.

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“That’s when Justin Schofield… interviewed me,” Rosales said. “He said you’re not going to be a cook. I said, ‘OK, what am I going to be?’ He said, ‘You’re going to be a supervisor.’ I said OK. He sat there and told me he believes in giving people second chances. I’m sitting on four felonies. I’ve done 15 years in prison.”

Rosales is now the lead supervisor for the men’s mission, the Rapid City Journal reported.

“Ever since I’ve been here and ever since I’ve been working with these people… each time I talk to an individual, I see myself in them,” he said. “I try to point them in the right direction. …I wish I could fix everything, but I can’t. And I let them know that. I let them know, too, that whatever you did before you came here, you’re human and we’re not perfect and we are going to make mistakes.”

Rosales said he doesn’t know where those who stay at the mission would be if it didn’t exist.

Lt. Tim Doyle said it will take the entire community to address homelessness.

“This is not a police issue, this is a community-wide issue and we understand that,” he said. “The police department, we know we can’t fix this, but we can take steps… because it’s going to take the whole community together to start fixing it and making things better.”

In September 2020, Mayor Steve Allender called a press conference to discuss the growing homelessness in Rapid City and the strain it put on city resources. He said there was an influx of people from nearby reservations and that many were attracted to free meals served in city parks.

The annual point-in-time count for the unsheltered homeless population was canceled in 2021 due to the pandemic, but the sheltered homeless count continued. That data is typically released in May.

Rapid City has seen a fluctuation in its point-in-time count over the past five years. In 2021, only sheltered homeless individuals were counted for the point-in-time count due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There was a total of 194 sheltered homeless for the count with 124 adults over 24, 44 children and 26 adults 18-24.

In 2020, there were 353 homeless people counted, both sheltered and unsheltered. In 2019 there were 334, 385 in 2018, 300 in 2017, 343 in 2016 and 247 in 2015.

The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development released its 2020 annual Homeless Assessment report to Congress in mid-March and found an 82.7% change in the South Dakota homeless population since 2007. The department estimates there are 119 chronically homeless individuals, 67 unaccompanied homeless youth, 43 homeless veterans, and 315 people in families with children in the state.

According to the data, about 12 people in every 10,000 were experiencing homelessness during the 2020 point-in-time count. The data also found that African American and Indigenous people remained over-represented among the homeless population.

“Together, American Indian, Alaska Native, Pacific Islander and Native Hawaiian populations account for one percent of the U.S. population, but 5% of the homeless population and 7% of the unsheltered population,” the press release states.

Tracy Signastadt, founder of Journey On, a non-profit organization doing outreach similar to that of the Quality of Life Unit for those who are homeless, said she began the organization in 2018 after working in the nonprofit sector with at-risk youth.

The organization is Native-led. Both Signastadt and Lance Lehmann, the business manager for the organization, are Native American and hope to help the homeless population.

“We want to be mentors through the process because the police department’s job is to enforce laws,” Lehmann said. “They’re law enforcement officers whereas we can be mental health and social workers on the streets and advocate and follow up.”

He said they could be the street outreach component for their partner organizations that can encourage individuals to seek resources.

“We’re not trying to replicate any services, we’re not going to be a therapy group or provide shelter,” he said. ’We’re just going to be a group trying to connect these individuals with services that already exist in our community.”

Signastadt said outreach members will train in harm reduction, conflict resolution, Lakota mental health and first aid, youth mental health and first aid, cultural responsiveness and more.

She said they’ll also have people with who have experienced homelessness, addiction and recovery on staff to better relate to what some people may be going through.

Lehmann said the goal is to almost be a first or co-responder with the police department.

CommonBond, an affordable housing non-profit organization that works with residents to help achieve their goals through integrated on-site services and serves about 13,000 people in 60 cities, plans to expand to Rapid City.

President and CEO Deidre Schmidt said over the organization’s 50 years, they’ve learned that building housing is hard enough, but that’s only where it starts.

She said they’ve had a couple of false starts with land not quite panning out, but that it could easily take two to five years to bring a project like this from an idea to reality — it’s been about 18 months so far.

“It’s super disappointing, but we’re not daunted,” she said. “We just looked at over a dozen alternative sites in and around Rapid City and we’re narrowing those down.”

Schmidt said she came to Rapid City in 2018 to be part of a morning session and spoke with people trying to improve the health and diversity of the housing market.

She said the organization is looking at land that’s either developable or redevelopable for multi-family housing, which is primarily due to the kind of funding programs that are available. She said they’d like to build 70 units or more at a time.

Thomas Adams, executive vice president of housing and services, said he’s responsible for resident-facing services, which encompasses property management for affordable housing community sites, compliance, services and support services.

He said CommonBond doesn’t provide direct therapy for residents and their communities, but connects them with services they need. He said they’re focused on helping people with stable housing.

“You may be in a place, but it’s not stable. Every month is a determination on food, paying rent or buying medication and you only have enough money for two of the three,” he said. “You’re a decision away from your housing being in jeopardy. That’s without mental health challenges, without addiction, without suffering some sort of abusive situation — those are just everyday factors for many folks in America.”

Adams said CommonBond has an individualized approach for each resident and success is finding housing stability.

Lysa Allison, executive director of Cornerstone Rescue Mission, said success varies from person to person, and said a gap left in services is an education for the public.

“Homeless people aren’t scary people,” she said. “They’re somebody’s son, daughter, mom, dad, aunt, uncle sometimes. … They really do have the same issues you and I have as far as wanting to be accepted and treated well. I would stay instead of giving them handouts when they’re standing at traffic stops … you can say go to the mission, go to the Care Campus.”

Barry Tice, director of Pennington County Health and Human Services, said success depends on the individual, just like the level of care or service someone needs.

Chief Deputy Willie Whelchel said success is in the small steps people take to achieve their greater goal.

Tice said the Care Campus is looking into the next steps of helping the aging homeless.

“I don’t think we’ve quite understood how substantial this will be over the next three to five years,” he said. “We have a growing population of elderly individuals in our community who’ve been housed, unhoused and homeless for decades. They might have an extensive criminal history, suffer from substance abuse disorders their entire lives, and you include some behavioral health needs in there and that’s a lot.”

Senior officer Jim Hansen with the Quality of Life Unit said Rapid City, the police department, sheriff’s office, Pennington County Health and Human Services, Behavior Management Systems, Crisis Care and alcohol and detox are all at the table.

“Who’s not at the table with us? That’s the question,” he said. “We need those entities.”

Brendyn Medina, public information officer for the Rapid City Police Department, said the department hired two employees to assist the unit with social service and case management services.

Doyle said there needs to be more intention with the resources some are providing, and there needs to be more collaboration within the organizations.

He said they’re willing to work with anyone who wants to respond to the problem.

“Some people are going to have to admit they’re not the entire solution,” Doyle said. “There’s not one organization that’s the entire solution. It’s a whole spectrum of services and every one of these people needs something different.”

Rosales said he wishes people understood more about what goes on at the mission.

“They don’t get into the depth with it, they don’t come out and say, ‘Let me see what’s going on,’ and they just make their judgments like it’s nothing,” he said. “These are peoples’ lives they’re messing with or criticizing.

“These people are homeless,” he said. “It does not mean that they’re not human. These people deserve a meal, a bed, everything they don’t have.”

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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