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Smaller towns busing people to Sioux Falls for social services

The county says agencies are putting people on the bus to get help here, adding to the homeless population. That's on top of influx from around the country drawn by South Dakota's reputation as an "open" state.

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Volunteers serve food to guests at the Bishop Dudley Hospitality House, a homeless shelter in Sioux Falls.
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — A bus ticket to Sioux Falls is often the solution for smaller communities struggling to help a person who needs social services, the director of human services for Minnehaha and Lincoln County said this week.

That’s on top of the influx of people from other states who came to Sioux Falls during the pandemic because South Dakota was “open,” said Kari Benz during a meeting of the city’s homeless task force.

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Kari Benz, director of human services in Minnehaha and Lincoln counties.
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“I see them sending them here within the state,” Benz said. “We often have people who have arrived who have received a bus ticket that may be from their community to here. They may be on their way to actually destination C but they only get sent here and then they are sent to our office. We provide the next leg of the bus ticket.”

The task force was created by the City Council in June for the purpose of studying and making recommendations to reduce homelessness over a 10-year period. The task force’s findings are due by Dec. 13.

The notion that other communities, agencies or institutions see Sioux Falls as a logical destination to get help is familiar to Madeline Shields, the executive director of the Bishop Dudley Hospitality House, a shelter for those who are homeless east of downtown.

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That’s because Bishop Dudley, and other agencies, are often the last resort for people who have no other option. Those experiencing homelessness arrive in taxis on a regular basis, sent by medical facilities, treatment centers and even family members.

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Madeline Shields, director of the Bishop Dudley Hospitality House in Sioux Falls.
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“They come here and get treatment and they get discharged and they have nowhere to go and they end up here,” said Shields.

The Bishop Dudley House was designed to house 100 people with 80 beds for men and 20 for women. The building recently was approved by the fire marshal for a capacity of 155.

The daily population of the shelter has dipped below 100 only 26 nights in the past 20 months.

Benz said there is continual movement of people within the state as residents migrate between communities. But the larger uptick in recent history was the result of South Dakota’s reputation as an open state during the pandemic.

“When we’ve asked why they are choosing to come here, a lot of it is that it’s an open state so its freer to do as they choose,” Benz said. “They believe that we did right through COVID and remained open, so in states that they've been in where they’ve lived, that wasn’t the case so they want to be able to come here and have that opportunity. Do I see a big influx? Yes, certainly.”

The reputation may not be reality for people living on the margins, who needed jobs in the service sector or other industries affected by the pandemic, Shields said.

“They got here and realized that restaurants were closed, movie theaters were closed, most state offices were closed,” she said. “Some of those people have stayed, most of them have moved on.”

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It was a difficult time for the working poor in general, she said. “All of our guests lost their jobs during the pandemic.”

MORE FROM PATRICK LALLEY:

Related Topics: SIOUX FALLS
Patrick Lalley is the engagement editor and reporter for the Forum News Service in Sioux Falls. Reach him at plalley@forumcomm.com.
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