The city of Casper, Wyoming has been overrun by a record-high homeless population, leading to millions of dollars in property damage according to the city’s mayor. Illegal squatters have also reportedly left hundreds of pounds of feces around the downtown area, prompting an urgent response from the local government.
“It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen,” Mayor Bruce Knell told The Cowboy State Daily last week. “It’s third-world-country stuff happening in Casper, Wyoming.”
Casper, the second-largest city in Wyoming with a population of 58,543, reports its homeless population at around 200 individuals, a record for the city. In recent months, large groups of squatters took up residence at a vacant Econo Lodge motel, which had previously been foreclosed due to flooding. According to Knell, the vagrants inflicted millions of dollars in property damage to the motel—far worse than what the flooding had caused.
“They destroyed everything. It’s horrible,” the mayor said.
The Econo Lodge has since been condemned and squatters have begun moving into other areas of the city, including public parks and sidewalks, creating a particularly disgusting situation for city residents.
Knell reported that city staff has been forced to clean up an estimated 500 pounds of human feces from the streets of downtown Casper. “In desperate times people do desperate things, and unfortunately we’re the ones left having to deal with it,” Knell said.
While Casper, Wyoming has a homeless shelter, Knell pointed out that only a small fraction of those who apply to stay there are accepted. Those who are rejected or kicked out usually take up residence elsewhere in the city. “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.”
In response, Knell is calling on the Casper City Council to strengthen regulations against urban camping and squatting in an effort to make the city “less inviting to homeless people” until additional mental health and substance abuse services can be provided. These measures include requiring squatters to have written permission from property owners and setting time limits for camping on private property, as well as strengthening police authority to remove violators.
“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 said. Voting on the proposals could begin as soon as this week.
The crisis in Casper is mirrored in cities across the county, where homelessness, drug abuse, and mental illness are at an all-time high. However, the presence of this issue in Wyoming—historically a Republican state—highlights that this problem is no longer confined to Democrat-run areas.