The ‘undesirables’ look for a homeWill Rapid City close its doors?
By Richie Richards
Native Sun News Today Correspondent
nativesunnews.today RAPID CITY – As Rapid City continues to put the clamp down on the homeless and addicted population, many being Native American, dislocation and relocation seems to be the roundabout solution which the city hopes will work; as elected officials and business leaders hope to clean up the business fronts and downtown area. During a recent interview on a local television station, City Council Member (Ward 2) Ritchie Nordstrom in discussing the need to keep downtown businesses safe referred to the homeless and/or addicted who frequent the area, as “the undesirables.” This reference, some will say, represents the historical racism and social façade which recent local efforts in race relations and community building have been working hard to dismantle. Examples of these well-intentioned groups include the Rapid City Collective Impact and their hopes of building a Transformation Center on the old National American University campus near the Pennington County Jail and Courthouse and the recent Memorandum of Understanding being worked on between businesses on Mount Rushmore Road in conjunction with the Rapid City Police Department. Although wanting to make a safer Rapid City for tourists, citizens and businesses, its efforts like these which continue to label, marginalize and put homeless and addicted Native Americans in close proximity to a jail already over half-filled with tribal members. These groups act as social funnels for the homeless and addicted citizens to flow into an already over-populated judicial system. The sustainability of a transformation center designed to house, rehabilitate, educate and employ the homeless and addicted population in Rapid City is challenging. Native Sun News Today interviewed several individuals at the Corner Stone Rescue Mission who have been homeless for various periods of time in Rapid City. Their needs are similar and addiction recovery is not the most immediate need for most. None have been contacted by Rapid City Collective Impact to ask directly about their needs; both as tribal members and non-Native citizens. Just like the fluid seasons of the Black Hills, the homeless population is consistently changing. Mary Dupris, 41, and Gary Reiser, 37, both of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe have been living on and off with a relative in Rapid City for the past three months. They have been staying primarily in Rapid City but have been going back and forth from the reservation when not staying with the relative or at the Corner Stone Rescue Mission when “kicked out” of the relative’s residence for various reasons. The married couple has not had an income since July 2017. “We came to Rapid to get jobs and get on our feet,” said Reiser. Dupris is a service worker who finds employment in housekeeping, daycare and senior citizens facilities. She is currently dealing with “health problems” with her heart. Her husband is currently their only means of support, if he could ever find a job. His wife has been unemployed since 2016. They have both been sober for over a year.
They have been displaced from the relative’s home off and on. “When we get money, we split finances with them (relatives) and when it runs out, she asks us when we are going to find another place to go. It’s ongoing. It’s sad to say, but she is addicted to pain medication,” said Reiser. “If she has her pain medication, she is good.” The couple claims it is the erratic behavior of her relative which continually makes them dependent on the Corner Stone Rescue Mission for temporary housing. One drawback for the married couple is having to sleep in separate quarters, especially with her health problems. They want to get on their feet as soon as possible. “It’s like a roller coaster,” said Reiser. “We slept in the basement (at her relatives) and this is where she kept her dogs. So, we were sleeping with urine and feces. Every morning, we would get up with pee and poop all over,” Dupris said with tears in her eyes. At the beginning of the day, their first chore would be to clean up the waste. This lifestyle made it difficult to live in those conditions for the married couple, but that was one of their only alternatives. “Every morning, we’d wake up and cook and clean and make sure everything is spic and span because we wanted everyone to be happy. We’d make sure everyone else was content before we could make ourselves happy,” the wife said. These challenges made finding a job difficult for Gary. The relative’s behavior associated with addiction led to the couple’s displacement on several occasions. They claim they would sign in for a bed at the Mission and soon thereafter, the relative would come and pick them up. This instability in their housing played a role in his unemployment as they are also without a vehicle. They walk everywhere despite her health issues. Mary and Gary have had their own share of addiction problems, but the couple has lived sober for over a year. Neither has heard of the transformation center being proposed in Rapid City. “Like I said, this is the first time we’ve heard of it is from you,” said Dupris. “From what I’ve heard from around town is that you have to know somebody to get the job. It’s kind of like favoritism. It’s like everything is long distance and I have to walk to get there. I’ve had interviews but I’ve just been getting the runaround,” said the husband. His frustration over getting a job is not apparent in his humble demeanor. Neither have a college degree or vocational certificate. On the morning of the interviews with Gary and Mary, individuals were lying on the floor in the hallway near the front desk window of the Corner Stone Rescue Mission; indicating the shortage of beds. Leo Swallow, Jr. 29 has a similar story to Reiser and Dupris’. He has recently relocated to Rapid City to seek employment and housing. His recent shifting in housing has taken him from the reservation to the city due to overcrowding in the home he was living in, in Porcupine, on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. For three weeks now, Swallow has been living at the Corner Stone Rescue Mission, but he is getting worried that his 30-day time period at the Mission is coming up. He has not been able to secure employment and soon needs to begin paying the “rent” payments due to residents of the Mission for their prolonged stay. Of the concerns listed by Swallow for services provided by various organizations and non-profits in Rapid City is those provided by Church-related or sponsored groups. Swallow is a Lakota man and believes in the Lakota beliefs and spiritual practices. Before he left his home in Porcupine, Swallow spent his days chopping wood for the home he stayed in and for others. This is how he earned his keep; as he was unemployed on the reservation before coming to Rapid City in late December, 2017. “The place I was staying in, they were not able to afford a lot of stuff. So, I had to come up to Rapid City. When I stayed there, I helped out with what I could, with what little I had,” said Swallow. “I came up here to see if I could get employment.” “I’ve noticed that the majority of the people who get helped here are those who are addicted to drugs or alcohol. But then again, there’s a lot of people who don’t get the help they need because they are not addicted,” said Swallow. “A lot of these programs are Christian-based, but there’s not enough to support the Lakota spirituality. That’s one thing I practiced when I came up here – the sweat lodge to pray. And you don’t find a lot of that going on up here,” said Swallow. Swallow feels he is not welcomed or treated the same if he goes to the church-based support services and feels awkward when required or requested to pray to the Hebraic deity, when his belief in the Lakota way is his foundation for prayer. “I don’t really like to partake in something I don’t quite believe in, but I find that a lot of people partake in it just to get a meal. It’s just the way it is up here,” said Swallow. “It would be helpful to have the Lakota spirituality a part of the system up here.” Not everyone who Native Sun News Today spoke to at the Corner Stone Rescue Mission wanted to be identified, part in fear of marginalization by support groups, but also their stories are very personal; including the Lakota woman whose son died in a house fire in Rapid City and she refuses to leave because she doesn’t “want to leave my son alone here.” She has been homeless in Rapid City for thirteen years. The homeless and addicted population are often clumped together in one category and therefore the individuals get treated the same by city officials and business leaders. There undesirable lifestyle is not a precept they hoped for. They have goals and are not always held back by addiction.
Native Sun News Today: Center offers 'HOPE' for Native community in Rapid City (November 29, 2017)
Native Sun News Today: Homeless veterans in South Dakota share their stories (November 14, 2017)
Tim Giago: Deaths of Indian homeless in Rapid City still unresolved (April 3, 2017)
Native Sun News Today: City aims to keep Native homeless population safe (March 29, 2017)