Jackson Hole needs a better safety net for those who are cast adrift without secure housing.

From the outside Jackson Hole appears idyllic, immune to big-city problems. The most recent data tells a different story.

The high cost of living permeates the fabric of the valley, and a single unexpected expense can set off a chain reaction that causes people to lose their housing. Once that toehold is gone it can become difficult or impossible to regain.

Although experts say the numbers don’t paint a complete picture of the problem, they’re a place to start. The 26 men’s beds at the Christian-focused Good Samaritan Mission, established in 1970, are usually full at a charge of $12 a night (showers are $1 more). The five women’s beds are being used, too, and the Mission turned away 10 women last year. Perhaps most significantly, it can’t accommodate families with children. The Mission doesn’t take pets, and those who lean on animals for emotional support usually won’t give them up in exchange for a bed. People under the influence of alcohol or drugs also can’t sleep at the Mission. Those who are suffering mental health problems can’t stay if they’re deemed disruptive.

Police estimate about 30 people lie their heads among the willows in Karns Meadow every summer evening, with more along the flanks of Snow King and nearby public lands.

Teton County School District counts 81 homeless students.

When police encounter men or women without a place to stay, especially if they’re intoxicated, sometimes they wind up in jail. A misdemeanor criminal charge and a hefty fine can add to the mental and financial despair of someone who is homeless.

More than 4,000 donors dipped into their wallets during Old Bill’s Fun Run, which raised a mind-boggling $14,381,191 for 210 nonprofits, including the Mission.

Yet the annual budgets of several animal nonprofits dwarf that of the Mission, our sole local homeless facility.

In the wealthiest county in the country it’s embarrassing that we’re more invested in domestic animals than people. We’re also more invested in the arts than in health and human services.

In addition to doubling down on our commitment to create housing stock for the valley’s workforce, we need a stronger safety net for when people lose their housing. Investing in people during their lowest moments will pay dividends in reducing further community costs.

We need to take a hard look at our priorities.

The town of Jackson and Teton County should examine their budgets and figure out what permanent funding can be shifted. Philanthropists should simultaneously step up, either by donating to the Mission or working to develop an additional shelter to help families through what is undoubtedly one of the most stressful times in their lives.

It’s time to reevaluate our priorities.

This editorial represents the opinion of the News&Guide’s editorial board: Johanna Love, Rebecca Huntington, Kevin Olson and Adam Meyer.

(1) comment

Roger Hayden

This editorial, news reports and letters to the editor are quite similar to those written almost 27 years ago when I arrived in Jackson Hole. The housing issues were serious then and are more difficult now because Jackson Hole is an attractive and increasingly expensive place to live, conduct business and invest in, and housing doesn't exist or is too expensive for many. What we have today has always been predicted.

While I've supported providing affordable housing for many years, I'm questioning it today. I wonder how I, an average working renter, benefits from our community spending millions of dollars to house the fishing guides, chefs and bar tenders who always come here. Why do we need to make it easier for those working at a new hotel to get housing and stay as long as they want without losing housing?

Except for essential workers, like police, firefighters, teachers and medical personnel, I see no benefit to subsidizing new hotels with less expensive employees. Doesn't that encourage more traffic on our roads and more difficulty getting doctors' appointments?

I understand the goal of maintaining a resident workforce of a certain size, but it's difficult for me to see how growing those numbers to keep pace with commercial growth and needs of wealthy individuals benefits me. Maybe I'm missing something. Please let me know.

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