RAPID CITY, S.D. (KELO) — Since the beginning of the year, Rapid City and the State of South Dakota have seen a rise in the number of people who are homeless. But not everyone agrees on the best way to help this population.
A few weeks ago, a group set up a tipi camp along Rapid Creek by the Central States Fairgrounds. Law enforcement said it was illegal, so more than two dozen officers tore down the camp.
“That was an effort to provide housing to people, given it was a short-term plan to provide housing and food. And the fact that we were surrounded by 25 to 30 police officers, it’s an indicator of where the city’s priorities are at,” Nick Tilsen, President of NDN Collective said.
“I think that Rapid City is spending way too much time over policing the community, over-criminalizing the community and not actually spending the time solving the problem,” Tilsen said.
Since then, members of the group created a new campsite on private property to continue helping the homeless the way they see fit.
“There’s people living in that camp right now, there’s people staying in that camp right now. And it’s not meeting the needs of all the people in the community but it’s meeting the needs of people who’s needs weren’t being met before,” Tilsen said.
However, Rapid City Mayor Steve Allender says there are many options.
“Actually in the last 10 years, this city has really upped the game in terms of homeless care,” Mayor Allender said.
Allender says people can turn to the Cornerstone Rescue Mission, the Hope Center, the Care Campus, police and fire services.
There’s also the Quality of Life Unit with the Rapid City Police Department. Officer Jim Hansen says there are two types of homeless people.
“The problem is people don’t understand there is a willing homeless and an unwilling homeless. The willing homeless are the ones you see out panhandling, the ones that are flying signs on the corners. They’re the ones that we deal with because they generate a high volume of calls,” Hansen said.
Hansen says that providing shelter and food for one night is not a long-term solution to solving this issue.
“So you have to really think about what you are doing. Providing them a meal is one thing, giving them a job is another,” Hansen said.
“The things that I have said have been taken controversially because I have said there are homeless services for every individual that is without a place to sleep tonight and the counter-argument to that is well but they don’t like the services that are available. I’m sorry about that but homelessness is unfortunate and we should be working against it not against each other,” Mayor Allender said.
While there are still opposing views on how to aid the homeless in Rapid City, Mayor Allender says there are ways you can help right now.
“So I think if the public really wants to help, then sacrifice a little bit financially and get that money over to one of these existing service organizations,” Mayor Allender said.
But Tilsen says people need to remember that’s not the only option.
“Rather than tear down different ideas that people have, let’s just lean in to create a diversity of different options to meet the diversity of needs that the people have in our community,” Tilsen said.
Mayor Allender says the city is investing five million dollars into a new facility for the homeless willing to get help called One Heart.