Did a Wyoming judge order homeless people in Jackson to get on bus to Salt Lake City?

Did a Wyoming judge order homeless people in Jackson to get on bus to Salt Lake City?

A Jackson police lieutenant told a Wyoming news organization that Salt Lake City has “more resources.”

(Jae C. Hong | AP) A general view of Jackson, Wyo., and the Teton Range on Monday, Aug. 15, 2022.

A Teton County judge in Wyoming has reportedly ordered some chronically unhoused people in Jackson to get on a bus to Salt Lake City, which a Jackson police official said has “more resources,” according to a news article by the Jackson Hole News & Guide.

The reported action only applied to some unhoused individuals identified as “frequent fliers” who have cycled in and out of jail, according to the Wyoming news report published Wednesday.

The police official quoted in the story, Lt. Russ Ruschill of the Jackson Police Department, clarified to The Salt Lake Tribune on Thursday that he has heard of at least one unhoused person who was frequently arrested for “disorderly” behavior being instructed to go to Salt Lake City to obtain medical and mental health care.

“We are not ordering people to leave the town of Jackson to go to Salt Lake City,” he said of Jackson’s general unsheltered population. “We don’t export our homeless.”

According to the Wyoming news report, Ruschill said that if a homeless person in Jackson is experiencing a mental health crisis, they’re usually taken to a hospital for treatment or partnered with an organization such as the Salvation Army to find a place to go.

But for homeless individuals who regularly cycle in and out of jail, Teton County Circuit Court Judge James Radda has “begun writing into their release orders that they must take the bus to Salt Lake City,” the Wyoming news report states.

An attempt by The Tribune to reach the judge Thursday was unsuccessful; an assistant in his chambers said he was not available. A clerk with the Teton County Circuit Court subsequently said the judge was traveling.

That clerk later said she could not confirm that the judge had ordered any homeless individuals to take a bus to Salt Lake City.

“Our mission is their safety,” Ruschill is quoted as saying in the Jackson news report. “Salt Lake City has more resources down there. The Greyhound runs out of Salt Lake. We have no bus service here other than SLC, and the Salt Lake Express is cheap.”

In a phone call Thursday, Ruschill reiterated that Salt Lake City generally has more homelessness resources than Jackson.

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall on Thursday denounced the report that a Teton County judge was sending some chronically homeless people to Salt Lake City, describing it in a statement as “not surprising.”

“But to know it’s being done via manipulation of the criminal justice system is irresponsible, disheartening, and cruel at a humanitarian level,” Mendenhall said, citing the Wyoming report.

She added that she reached out to Jackson Mayor Hailey Levinson and urged her and other Jackson officials “to address these issues in their city and state.”

“This situation is yet another clear indicator that cities and states all across the country — even in one of the wealthiest places in the U.S. — are struggling to address the accelerating humanitarian crisis of homelessness,” Mendenhall said.

In a statement Thursday, the Salt Lake Valley Coalition to End Homelessness said it did not have any additional insight or information about whether any unsheltered individuals from Jackson had been sent to Salt Lake City. The organization said homelessness is a “national concern.”

“Our community’s network of service providers will continue to equitably serve people in need of assistance who arrive at our facilities, no matter where they come from,” the statement read.

Clarification • Nov. 3, 2 p.m.: The story has been updated with comments from a police lieutenant in Jackson.

— This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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