The city’s homeless task force held its first business meeting Monday afternoon and heard from the attorney and the city of Sioux Falls police chief, though a unique program from Rapid City also made an appearance.
The meeting focused on the task force’s second goal, which is to recommend policy that will guide future strategies on how Sioux Falls engages with homeless people on the streets.
City Attorney Stacy Kooistra gave the task force a baseline on the city’s laws regarding vagrancy, trespassing, and begging, repeatedly noting the importance of ensuring that the laws and their implementation do not come up against the protections of the First Amendment.
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And Police Chief Jon Thum spoke about the city’s history of struggles with homelessness, many of which he said had roots in alcohol addiction.
But the highlight of the meeting came when Michaela Seiber, CEO of South Dakota Urban Indian Health, spoke about Journey On and the possibility of replicating one of their recent projects in Sioux Falls.
Journey On is a Rapid City-based organization that has operated “street teams” since 2020, with services for the homeless ranging from food and water distribution to crisis intervention.
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In a recent partnership with the city, the organization responded to 1,700 calls that would otherwise have been assigned to police over the course of three months, Seiber said.
“I really appreciate the program that Journey On has created,” Rapid City Police Chief Don Hedrick told the Rapid City Journal earlier this year. “Until the creation of Journey On, there was no other organization properly equipped to provide outreach services to this population.”
Seiber said SDUIH is in the “early stages” of developing a similar program in Sioux Falls, adding that it has already had discussions with the Sioux Falls Police Department and hopes to launch a pilot project in the coming months. .
Councilor Rich Merkouris, chair of the task force, said he also followed Journey On for two days in Rapid City.
The first two meetings of the task force had been largely informative, with members hearing first from city organizations and then from more than a dozen city residents.
Many residents had ties to downtown Sioux Falls and blamed homelessness issues at the feet of Bishop Dudley Hospitality House manager Madeline Shields.
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Shields said later that week there was an inordinate focus on “about 30 people who are causing us the most difficulty”, not on how the shelter provided beds, meals and other services. to more than a hundred people every day.