CHEYENNE, Wyo. — With 11 out of every 10,000 residents considered homeless, Wyoming holds one of the lowest homeless rates in the country.
Although small, the issue is still present in the Cowboy State. The number of people experiencing homelessness went up 5.9% since 2020 and is up by 11.9% from 2010. As the numbers increase, so can negative stigma surrounding unhoused people, said Justin Marcy, a Comea Shelter case manager.
Some people assume that those who are unhoused are lazy, don’t want to do anything and chose to be homeless, Marcy said. While there is a minority of people who prefer an unhoused lifestyle, Marcy said, each person has their own reason and story for their housing situation.
“There are so many different underlying factors and it’s such an individualized problem,” he said. “It’s not talked about enough … [or] in a positive light in our society.”
The following are stories from three different Comea Shelter residents.
A newer member of the Comea Shelter, Charles Miears, 46, arrived in late April. After years of transferring back and forth between different institutional corrections facilities, Miears said he is learning to adjust to an unhoused lifestyle.
“It’s not too bad [at Comea], just a little getting used to,” he said. “It’s just the fact of being homeless and starting from the bottom that’s probably the biggest thing.”
Miears’s stepfather fixed railroads for a living and every six months, the family would move to a new location. By the time Miears was a teenager, he had attended 16 different schools and lived in various western states including Texas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Wyoming.
An unstable home life caused Miears to leave his family at 14. While living with friends in Nebraska, he tried meth for the first time. The event would mark the beginning of Miears’s 31-year meth addiction.
“I don’t know, the first time I tried it I was addicted,” he said. “It’s a pretty addictive drug. I loved the feeling of it and everything about it.”
Although taking meth made Miears feel good, the addiction turned him into a “bad person,” he said. Miears ended up incarcerated in the State Penitentiary in Torrington. He was then transferred to multiple places: the Wyoming State Prison in Rawlins, two different treatment facilities in Rock Springs and the Laramie County Jail.
By the time Miears came to Comea, however, he had been clean for almost two years. His bunkmate and friend in Torrington had introduced him to Christianity. After getting baptized and giving himself up to God, Miears said he started to sober up.
“I know God is real,” he said. “I know there is a higher power up there, something in the universe that controls this stuff. You live right, you get right.”
After years of alcohol abuse, Pam, who declined to give her last name, wanted to get clean. She didn’t know how to, but her parents had an idea.
They dropped her off at the Comea Shelter in January, a decision that the 40-year-old first met with disbelief.
“I was mortified when I got dropped off here,” she said. “I didn’t know what to expect. There was that stigma that ‘I’m not one of them, I’m better than this.'”
Born and raised in Douglas, Pam grew up around alcohol. Her mother, biological father and stepfather were alcoholics.
“It was the lifestyle I grew up in,” she said.
It wasn’t until she graduated college in Denver almost 10 years ago, Pam said, that the “disease of alcoholism” finally got to her.
For a while, Pam described herself as “functional.” When Pam and her parents moved to Cheyenne in 2014, she could satisfy for alcohol cravings while still doing her day-to-day tasks like working and taking care of her daughter. Her drinking habits soon took a turn for the worse, however, and it became harder for her to keep a steady job and take care of herself. Pam told herself she would quit, but would always find her way back to a bottle.
“I had to drink to get rid of the shakes,” she said. “[I’d] drink throughout the day just to feel normal.”
That’s when she knew it was time to get help.
Although embarrassed to come to Comea at first, Pam said it didn’t take long for her to feel comfortable at the shelter and take steps to become sober. She currently attends virtual Intensive Outpatient classes nine hours each week, which are part of a Volunteers of America Northern Rockies’s addition treatment program from. She is also able to keep her part-time job as a lead concessioner for the City of Cheyenne.
Recently, Pam moved into a semi-private woman’s dorm at Comea as part of its pay-to-stay program. In the upcoming months, she hopes to save enough money to apply for its transitional housing program, where shelter residents can rent a private studio apartment while working to secure permanent housing within the community.
If her parents hadn’t dropped her off at Comea to get help, Pam said, alcoholism would have surely killed her.
“Honestly, I’d probably be dead,” she said, “because everybody in my life has cut me off.”
A quick Google search led Shane Mosbey to find the Comea Shelter in October 2022.
The 50-year-old had been living at the Wyoming Rescue Mission in Casper, which has a 90-day time limit for people to stay, and wanted to find a shelter that offered long-term housing.
This isn’t Mosbey’s first experience with being unhoused. Prior to living in Comea and Casper, he spent time in the Grand Junction Rescue Mission in Colorado.
“It feels like I’m doing the homeless shelter world tour,” he said.
At one point, Mosbey had a home. He grew up in Rock Springs, where he lived with his brother, mother and stepfather, who was an alcoholic. Mosbey recalls being close to his brother until high school, when Mosbey attempted suicide and ended up in a mental hospital.
“I think that’s when the dynamic changed, everyone got scared of me didn’t want to talk to me,” he said. “I became the black sheep of the family, I guess.”
With no family to turn to and a housing crisis plaguing the nation in 2010, Mosbey decided to follow a piece of advice he found in a newspaper ad. “Come live in North Dakota,” it said. He moved to Williston, a small North Dakotan city, and then to Parshall, a town on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation.
He lived on the reservation until the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. With no steady housing or job, he moved back to Rock Springs to live with his brother. The homecoming, however, wasn’t ideal.
“He and I butted heads,” Mosbey said. “He basically told me ‘I don’t have a brother. I don’t know you. I don’t want to see you.'”
Mosbey then fled to Laramie, before moving to Grand Junction.
Although he said he has a tendency to flee when times get hard, coming to Comea has changed his mindset. Mosbey’s case worker has helped him become more trusting of people and connect to local job and housing resources. Now, Mosbey said he wants to save enough money to get his own apartment in Cheyenne and create a more permanent housing situation.
“I’m done moving around,” he said. “I’ve seen it all; I’m ready to go home.”