Homeless task force votes to send recommendations to city leaders in Sioux Falls
Report asks for $1 million in funding street teams, public education
Exterior of the Bishop Dudley Hospitality House in Sioux Falls, pictured on Nov. 7, 2022. (John Hult/South Dakota Searchlight)
The question of how best to respond to homelessness – and the cost of doing so – will soon land in the lap of the Sioux Falls City Council.
The Sioux Falls Homeless Task Force, made up of city and county officials and community representatives in the state’s largest city, signed off on its recommendations on Monday night after its seventh and final meeting.
The group wants the city to:
- Hire a street team to respond to calls for vagrancy and loitering, at a cost of $500,000 for two years,
- Launch a public education campaign on the causes of realities of homelessness for $125,000,
- Encourage wider participation in the Helpline Network of Care, with $352,000 in incentives and technology upgrades,
- Partner with the county to study a “housing first” approach to homelessness mitigation in line with the county’s Safe Home facility, and,
- Review and update the existing panhandling ordinance.
The group’s final report also suggests devoting resources to the study of shelter and mental health service capacity in Sioux Falls, taking steps to encourage a more simplified, streamlined process for new identification cards to those experiencing homelessness, and a pushing for more affordable housing units.
Long-term cost of proposals questioned
With a price tag of nearly $1 million for the first two years came questions of long-term funding.
Kadyn Wittman, a task force member who works for the Sioux Falls Family YMCA, called herself a “strong supporter” the public education campaign. The community as a whole struggles to understand the root causes of homelessness and the difficulties faced by families and individuals with nowhere to stay, she said, and a public education campaign could help ease some of the tension between downtown visitors and the homeless population that sometimes mixes with them.
“This is probably the proposal I’m most excited about,” Wittman said.
Other task force members chimed in with support for the campaign as a long-term investment. Michelle Erpenbach of Sioux Falls Thrive, a former city council member herself, said she hopes to see city leaders make an ongoing commitment to education
“If this passes this group, I’d encourage that it become a standing item in our city budget,” Erpenbach said. “This problem is not going to go away, and people will continue to need to be educated.”
But city government tends to move slowly, said City Councilor Curt Soehl. Financing projects year by year can make long-term commitments of any kind a difficult sell. Ongoing funding could force the city to turn to the county or even the state for support.
“The funding might be the hiccup to some of this,” Soehl said. “The recommendations here are all great, but we’re going to be looking to (some) partners for the funding on this.”
‘It could help’
A few hours before the task force voted to send its recommendations to the City Council, 56-year-old Richard Reams and 32-year-old Michael Appleby stood smoking cigarettes about a half mile away, in a fenced enclosure just north of the Bishop Dudley Hospitality house’s front door.
As one of two homeless shelters in Sioux Falls, the Bishop Dudley factored heavily into the task force’s work. The Indiana Avenue shelter’s capacity and its management of overflow was a major talking point, particularly as the winter months approach.
Appleby and Reams both hope to be long gone from the shelter before the deep freeze sets in.
Reams is a recent parolee who landed at the shelter a few weeks ago after a rough transition from prison to community. He struggled with withdrawal symptoms when he ran out of the two-week supply of mental health medications the prison sent him out with. He eventually secured a prescription from Falls Community Health, but he didn’t have the money to rent an apartment or the identification card he’d need to get his name on a lease. Just last week, Reams got his ID. On Friday, he said, once he gets his first paycheck, he plans to move into an apartment.
“When I first came here, I was looking for help, but I helped myself,” Reams said. “That’s the first lesson I learned.”
It wasn’t simple, though. Running out of his medication without a clear path to a refill was difficult, he said, as was jumping through the paperwork hoops to document his indigency and secure an ID card without a fee.
If the task force’s plans came to be and made it easier for people like him to get back on their feet, Reams said, it could make a difference for the next person in his shoes.
“If they implement it right, it would help,” Reams said.
Appleby isn’t sure when he’ll leave the shelter. He came to Sioux Falls from St. Paul about two weeks ago, meaning to meet and stay with a friend. When he arrived, he said, his friend was gone.
“I came here on a lie,” Appleby said.
His backpack, along with his ID, electronics and other personal belongings, was stolen last week while he worked a temp job at a furniture store, he said. Now all he wants “is $65 for a bus ticket” back to St. Paul.
The Las Vegas native said he preferred St. Paul’s approach to homelessness, as well as its easier access to services. If Sioux Falls made it easier to get ID cards, birth certificates or temporary work, Appleby said, the homelessness situation could improve.
“I lived in St. Paul, Minnesota for almost two years and they have so many services. They have so many places you can go to for jobs, birth certificates, the whole nine yards,” he said.
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