“Death. That’s the reality.” Helping the homeless is a community effort

Community leaders band together to get resources to help the homeless to business owners
Peace, Homelessness in Rapid City
Peace, Homelessness in Rapid City(Jeffrey Lindblom)
Published: Apr. 20, 2022 at 5:24 PM MDT
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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KEVN) - As restrictions caused by the pandemic come to a close and some are starting to say it’s coming to an end, lingering effects remain.

During the pandemic, people’s work was impacted. Some even losing their jobs, and many their homes.

In the wake of the nationwide shutdown, South Dakota’s homeless population has increased by a third.

However, resources are available and community leaders are making an effort to keep everyone in the loop.

Dominic, whose been homeless in Rapid City for two years, says “people have been dying out on the streets, and that’s pretty sad. That’s the reality of things. Death.”

In order to make a difference, Cori, whose been living on the Rapid City streets for 30 years, says, “help the ones that need help so they can get on their feet. People need chances instead of getting judged.”

Judgment she says is in full effect with people’s eyes glued to her while she’s sitting on a bench or in the bed of a truck, “and you can feel it when you’re sober constantly.” But, it’s not just the glances that cause trouble on the streets, because “they throw stuff at you, or hit people.”

It’s a life Dominic calls “scary,” because “there is times that you’re out here by yourself. You get shot at. You get people that try to fight you. You don’t know what’s going to be around the corner for you.” When you’re rounding that corner, sometimes the police aren’t an option, because “a lot of people don’t like to go to the cops, they want to do it on their own.”

Lieutenant Tim Doyle, Rapid City Police Department, understands and says “there’s some people who don’t trust us, and we get that.”

That’s why Rapid City has built relationships, and is using something called We Connect Community. Which is bringing to light available options, outside of the police, for business owners who see those who are homeless and are concerned.

Lt. Doyle says, “there’s people that they’re going to be able to connect to because they’re not part of the system. They’re not part of law enforcement. They don’t work for the police department. They don’t report to us. It’s a completely separate entity.”

Dominic says everyone is deserving of help, especially because “there’s some good people out here who are educated, or they got trades behind them, but they just to choose to be that way in the addiction. You know, the alcoholism and drugs.”

However, “ultimately our goals are all the same,” Lt. Doyle explains, “and that’s to help people get off the street.”

There’s more people who need help right now, since following the pandemic homelessness has increased 30-percent in South Dakota.

Dominic is part of that percentage. “The job quit because the pay roll ran out, and when COVID came that put a damper on everything for everyone. They had jobs before, now they’re on the streets.”

He says drugs and alcohol are all over the streets, which can swallow you, because, “they give up on themselves and they just don’t want to do nothing. Just drink.” Dominic admits, “I was like that too.” Now, he’s about to start a job.

We Connect Community is trying to give business owners the knowledge and training needed to take a moment to understand people who might be spiraling, or who have hit the bottom, where Tara Wilcox, Volunteers of American, Northern Rockies, says “to help them as they encounter the homeless population who may frequent their area, and allows the business to have an immediate tool to give them assistance with handling the situation on site.”

Furthermore, she says to get the person struggling the care need depending on the situations severity, and “they now have another level of support, rather than going directly to emergency response to meet the needs of our houseless neighbors.”

“You know,” Dominic says, “there is hope out here if you really want to do it.”

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