Casper Mayor Speaks Out on City’s Homeless Population
Knell says a ‘disconnect’ between services and city
- Published In: Politics
- Last Updated: Sep 09, 2023
Casper Mayor Bruce Knell said the town is suffering from property damage caused by a contingency of homeless people, including many from out-of-town. (Courtesy photo from the City of Casper)
By Carrie Haderlie
Special to the Wyoming Truth
Casper Mayor Bruce Knell said a contingency of what he calls “homeless people,” who he doesn’t believe are locals, have caused major damage to town property and left human waste in their wake.
In media interviews earlier this week, Knell cited damage of an unspecified dollar amount at the Casper Econo Lodge. He said it was caused by around “200 homeless people” living inside the motel, which was closed after flooding made it uninhabitable to travelers.
On Thursday, Knell told the Wyoming Truth that he believes most issues, including the recent destruction at the now-abandoned Econo Lodge at 300 W. F St., are caused by people from out of town who cannot access services at the Wyoming Rescue Mission.
Knell said Casper is seeking solutions to the problem of homelessness. The city, he continued, is not a welcoming place to be homeless, if only because of its harsh winters. What follows are excerpts from Knell’s conversation with the Wyoming Truth.
How do you know that the destruction of the Econo Lodge was caused by a transient homeless population and not by some other population already in Casper?
Knell: First off, we appreciate the Mission and what they do in our City, but the Mission does attract people that are in dire need of help. We do have people coming in from outside of Casper, trying to get services there, and what happens is, there is a certain element of those homeless people that are criminal, or are so mentally ill that they don’t want to conform to our societal rules. Or they have substance abuse issues to the point where the Mission will not allow them entry. Those people are turned away, and those are the ones that are out and about in our community with nowhere to go, no services available to them. They are the criminal element that is causing the problem.
When we have done several sweeps of that hotel before we finally got it boarded up and cleared out, we specifically asked these people where they were from. They were living in there. They are homeless people. They are not a contingency of rabble rousers from within the city limits of Casper.
So the group at the Econo Lodge, when the police went in and did a sweep, said they were from out of state?
Knell: Not necessarily out of state. They would tell us they were homeless, and we did have some say they came here from New York, the Bronx … There was a rather large contingency that said they were not from here.
What happened to the people who were cleared out of the Econo Lodge?
Knell: There were some arrests made, [but] we have not shipped any homeless people out of town.
How does the City deal with the issue of addiction among Casper’s young population?
Knell: The City and the County received some opioid settlement money, and we are currently collaborating with the Natrona County Commissioners to pull that money together. We have formed a board that includes someone from public health, government officials, local mental health and substance abuse counselors. We are just now starting to form a group with money behind them to start getting these folks the help … they need.
Would you say that most people are working hard to keep Casper a clean and safe environment?
Knell: That is the entire reason that we are bringing all of this to light. It is like any other problem, even in a family dynamic. The more you talk about it, the more you shine light on it, the more conversations you can start about it. We are getting to solution-based situations, which is what we are after now. We don’t want this for our community. We don’t want it for the people who live here and call this place home. My children and my grandchildren live here, and I want it to be better. That is why I am so passionate about this. Also, we want to get the word out that we don’t want it here. Our weather isn’t conducive to this anyway. This is not a place to be homeless.
The Wyoming Rescue Mission offers both mercy and emergency services. Would you say you are both addressing the same issue, but in a different way?
Knell: When it comes to the Rescue Mission, I have met with them several times. There is a disconnect between the City and the Rescue Mission. They do have a situation where, [under] mercy services, [homeless people] can’t be in there from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. There is a reason they can’t be in there, and those are the ones that don’t want to conform to societal rules. Those are the ones that have substance abuse issues and are creating all these issues. That is the contingency.
There is a disconnect of communication with the Mission and the City, to let us know who is out and about. In good conscience, when they boot them out at 6 a.m., they know … that there is no place for them to go. Why aren’t they communicating with the city of who is out there, so that we can start tracking them? Those are the ones causing our problems. We are working on opening that line of communication between us and the Mission.