Mayor Allender: Growing homelessness causes 'economic damage’ to Rapid City

It’s an issue across the country: Homelessness.
Published: Sep. 30, 2020 at 11:22 PM CDT
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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KOTA) - Local officials and homeless advocates met on Wednesday to speak on the homeless situation in Rapid City.

“And in the last few months, the homeless population is growing,” said Mayor Steve Allender. “There’s been an influx from the local Indian reservations. Many new homeless who are here are attracted by the free food and parks. There are several groups now feeding homeless members in city parks and about town. We know this because this is what they tell us. many of this group are attracted by the availability of alcohol.”

But, in an area that sees winter temperatures below freezing, the cold causes concern.

“There’s been mounting pressure for local government to fix this,” said Allender. “Specifically to provide housing for homeless individuals, as long as it’s housing that will allow them to live their current lifestyle, and as long as it’s before winter.”

Rapid City Police Chief Don Hedrick said it is the duty of law enforcement to protect all members of the community, especially the most vulnerable.

“And I can tell you our officers are out on the street every day, working to ensure safety for our city’s homeless,” said Hedrick.

In January 2018, RCPD created a quality of life unit, which connects the homeless with social services. Hedrick said, to date, they have helped at least 70 people get off the streets. He wants to add two social workers to the unit.

Allender said tackling the homeless problem is one of the most expensive things the city faces.

“Fifty percent, roughly, of the police and fire budget in Rapid City, goes toward homeless services,” said Allender. “That is $15 million annually going out of the police and fire budget to provide short-term, largely non-beneficial treatment to homelessness. About the economic damage that is caused by homelessness. The homeless individuals lined up at your storefront, begging money from your customers, frightening people, making them feel scared.”

Allender said there are large groups of homeless people wandering through downtown Raid City, many of whom Allender said alcoholics, who are not seeking help. He said he will not allow tax dollars to provide services for people who don’t want to be helped.

Allender said the homeless who have traveled to Rapid City left existing support systems.

“The homeless that are here from out of town should go home immediately,” said Allender. “That might sound harsh, and that might sound like it’s far fetched-- they’re homeless. Well, we can assist with transportation to those folks who are here and need to find their way back home. But the enabling must stop. The warm feeling one gets from feeding the homeless in a public space only puts them at an additional risk. We have it right from their mouths that they are here, in part, because they are being fed in the parks.”

Allender does want more funding for local service providers, and he wants it to come from the community.

He said if people donate a few dollars a month, these organizations would have more resources to do their jobs. Or people can donate their time to volunteer.

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