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CHEYENNE – On Feb. 1, Cheyenne’s COMEA House and Resource Center will open a low barrier winter shelter for people unable to meet the current shelter’s sobriety requirements.

The emergency shelter will operate through June 30 in the former family unit in the main COMEA building on Stinson Avenue in west Cheyenne. It will be funded by a $38,000 grant through Cheyenne Regional Medical Center’s Community Benefit Grants Program.

The goal of the winter shelter is to keep people experiencing homelessness “who are unable or unwilling to remain sober” warm and alive overnight while temperatures dip dangerously low, according to a news release. COMEA’s main shelter has a “strict sobriety policy,” Executive Director Robin Bocanegra said.

People experiencing homelessness who want to stay in the shelter will be able to check in from 8-10 p.m. After a short intake process, people will be given something to eat and drink, and they will be encouraged to shower. The shelter will provide scrubs for anyone who needs clean clothing to wear to sleep.

If needed, staff will wash and dry guests’ clothing in an individual mesh bag so it will be clean the following day.

Bocanegra said she expects to be able to house about 15 people in the winter shelter each night.

Sobriety, treatment and case management will not be required to stay at the winter shelter, but it will always be offered and encouraged, Bocanegra said.

“Even though we’re not forcing any sobriety, we’re hoping that by treating these folks like human beings – you know, helping them shower and put food in their stomachs and start the day clean – that that might encourage some sobriety,” she said. “We find that when people have been on the street for too long, they start to lose hope. And, you know, if you never have an opportunity to take a shower, put on clean clothes or eat a decent meal, it’s pretty hard to even think about sobriety. So we want to meet their basic needs and keep them safe.”

Alcohol will not be allowed on the property, and anyone who leaves the shelter before morning will not be allowed to re-enter until the following evening.

Shelter staff will ask anyone “unwilling to appreciate the safety and warmth” of the shelter to leave, and if the person does not seem able to keep themselves safe, the Cheyenne Police Department will be called in an effort to protect them from the cold, the news release said.

Acting Police Chief Nathan Buseck said he expects there may be occasional calls to the shelter, but that it will be nice to have another resource for people who are intoxicated to stay overnight other than Peak Wellness Center’s Alcohol Receiving Center or the Laramie County jail.

“I have all the confidence in Robin and COMEA that they will train their staff to handle as many situations as possible without involving the police. But, if necessary, we certainly will be there to support them,” Buseck said.

Though the original plan was to invite people who are sober in the morning into COMEA’s main dining area for breakfast, Bocanegra said that plan changed after her staff raised concerns about potential COVID-19 spread between residents in the current shelter and those staying at the winter shelter.

COMEA has never undertaken a project like this before.

The shelter first started the grant process with CRMC when the Alcohol Receiving Center was closed because of a funding cut, Bocanegra said, and even though it is reopening, COMEA and CRMC decided to continue with the program to help people who may not qualify for detox or who otherwise can’t get into the Alcohol Receiving Center program.

The $38,000 grant will cover the cost of the scrubs, mattresses, food and additional utilities for the space, as well as staff and maintenance costs, Bocanegra said.

Hannah Black is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s criminal justice reporter. She can be reached at hblack@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3128. Follow her on Twitter at @hannahcblack.

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