Center of Hope still a vital facility; other services big contributors, too

Aug 21, 2015 Rev. Mark Rader, Riverton


The City of Riverton is dealing with the shock of the shootings that took place on July 18 at the

Center of Hope, formerly known as the Riverton detox center. By now all -- or at least most of you -- are familiar with what took place. A city employee shot two clients at the Center of Hope, killing one and seriously wounding the other. In his confession to police, he said that he was frustrated and angry over the way that Riverton's homeless had been desecrating City Park.

He noted that he went to the park first, looking for transients to kill, and after finding none there went to the Center of Hope, where he knew he would find individuals meeting his criteria.

This senseless act of violence has been troubling. But equally troubling has been the frustration and discouragement I've sensed in our community. I've heard concerns from many over lingering racism that still affects our area. There is discouragement over the continuing struggles with addiction that afflicts so very many from all races in Fremont County.

Others feel unsafe in certain places in Riverton, such as City Park, because of the presence of those who find themselves homeless due to their addictions or, in some cases, due to their struggles with mental illness. Taken together I've sensed a fatalism in Riverton, a belief by many that this is simply how things are here and that there is nothing we can really do about any of it.

Perhaps it's a result of coming to Riverton from the outside, with no previous history or preconceived notions of what our community is like, but I'm actually seeing very real progress and reasons to hope.

The Volunteers of America took over the Riverton detox center mid-year in 2013, just about the time that my wife and I arrived in town to begin our work at United Methodist Church.

Within a few months they had instituted a new program that included a "social detox" component designed to prepare those who wanted to seek treatment and assist those who were returning from treatment.

In the previous year (2012) the former program had sent seven people to treatment. In fiscal years 2014 and 2015 combined, the new program has sent approximately 75 people off to treatment based services.

And there is much more to celebrate.

In March 2014 we launched the Riverton Help Center, a Christian "clearing house" designed to help people in need navigate the many state and federal assistance agencies out there, even as it provides some limited assistance on its own. It's become a busy place, as a handful of volunteers from our congregation who serve there can attest, and they've helped several families stay in their homes and navigate financial emergencies.

Their clients are required to participate in a budgeting and financial planning class to receive assistance, and the Episcopal Diocese of Wyoming was impressed enough with what they are doing to provide a grant to supplement the funds raised in their Salvation Army Kettle Campaign and the gifts they receive from churches.

And there is more. In January 2014 Dana Flint established a transitional housing ministry at the former Mountain View Transitions Center at the corner of North 8th and Main Street in Riverton. Now called Eagles

Hope Transitions, more than 200 people have received various kinds of assistance there since its opening.

While that number includes individuals who have come for short-term shelter, the cornerstone of the program has combined affordable housing, 12-step support groups, and five weekly life skills classes for residents who are seeking to get back on their feet, some of whom have come straight off of the street.

With a zero-tolerance policy towards alcohol and drugs, residents who are in recovery from addiction are finding a stable, supportive, environment.

All of these are new ministries, and taken together they are having a very real and noticeable impact on the problems that Riverton has been facing for a very long time.

Some of you may have read a report that our Riverton chief of police Mike Broadhead presented to the Riverton City Council just four months ago. On average, he noted, the RPD has taken approximately 2,000 individuals into custody each year solely for public intoxication. The fve-year average between 2009 and 2013 was 2,035, with a high of 2,152 in 2011.

But in 2014, that number was down to 1,228.

We are making progress, and while I do not want to minimize the problems we face, there is reason to hope. Together we can - and are - making a difference.

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