Kristy Oster joins the Trust team as Director of Community Engagement

Woman in green sweater stands and speaks at a meeting

Kristy Oster has been working as the Collective Health Trust’s Director of Community Engagement since the beginning of 2024, but her contributions to the Trust’s work go back over a year when she accepted the position of Community Case Manager for the Natrona County SIM team, which was recently rebranded as the Natrona Council for Safety and Justice (NCSJ).

The Trust recently launched a Community Engagement page on its website dedicated to the many projects NCSJ has undertaken. We recently spoke with Kristy to learn a little more about her and the exciting initiatives NCSJ is working on in the community.

Can you share a brief overview of your professional background and what led to this position at the Trust?

I spent nearly 20 years working with the Wyoming Department of Corrections. My positions consisted of a traditional Probation and Parole Agent, Reentry Coordinator and District Manager. After retiring from the Wyoming Department of Corrections, I transitioned to Mercer Family Resource Center to work as the Community Case Manager, which is a position funded by the Trust to directly work with vulnerable populations in crisis or transition. After a year in that position, I moved to work directly for the Trust as the Director of Community Engagement, to help continue the growth and development of programs and services needed in this area.

Does the Community Case Manager position still exist?

Yes! The role of Community Case Manager is vital to the programs developed and the assistance offered to vulnerable populations in our community. The position was relocated to Community Action Partnership of Natrona County, which fits well with their mission, data tracking capabilities, and funding streams. Mercer Family Resource Center was an incredible host and remains a very important partner in the work we do.

What population are you primarily focused on?

My career has been centered on justice-involved individuals through the probation and parole system. With this work, the focus expanded to individuals experiencing homelessness, those challenged with mental illness, substance abuse or other issues causing them to be vulnerable in our community. I am passionate about finding ways to help on a systemic level by collaborating with partners.

What do you find is the barrier to individuals finding and remaining in their homes?

Four people around a table.I wish there was a single solution, but there are many barriers that individuals in our community face that keep them on the street or put them into situations they are not able to maintain. Individuals who are on the street, in their car, or living with other people often have something that will affect their ability to be housed in the future, whether that is due to eviction, owing money, having low credit scores, having a conviction, not having all documentation, etc.

Things we often take for granted are hard to maintain on the streets and nearly impossible to improve without intervention. Even the most well-intentioned individuals will struggle once these barriers are placed on them because we don’t have a system where it’s easily remedied.  Unfortunately, the barriers only add up. When barriers are exacerbated by mental health or substance abuse disorders, it only becomes that more challenging to be successful.

How would you describe the work you hope to accomplish at the Trust?

I am passionate about bringing entities, resources, and individuals together to solve a problem. People want to help when there is a plan and action can be taken. Through the work of many in this community, we created 30-day Reentry Program in the jail, developed a downtown outreach program that feeds individuals and connects them to life-saving resources, and opened a navigation center called Kind Grounds for unhoused individuals where resources come to them to help connect and break down barriers. We are also bringing people with lived experience to the table to be part of the solution and gain knowledge from their expertise in areas we can’t truly understand.

In addition to that, we have agencies working together to get people where they need to go, to ensure that clients are receiving the medical and substance abuse treatment that is needed and we are working together to find a housing solution for the individuals who need it the most. We are doing this as a team.

My hope is that my work at the Trust can continue to support the efforts of those in the trenches and on the front lines. Incredible work is being accomplished in Natrona County and I would like to support that by assisting with funding opportunities, continuing to bring individuals, non-profit organizations, city/county officials and state leaders together to understand the work we are doing and get more people involved in the solution!

What is unique about the work you do?

Two women share a hugThe incredible thing about all that has been accomplished is that the agencies are all coming together to make it happen. The Trust funds the Community Case Manager position and Kind Grounds received a grant to assist operationally, but all other work has been done in coordination with other agencies because they care about the individuals we are helping, and they see that it is making a difference.

Individuals in our community are getting the care and support they need, and they are gaining trust with local resources that had been lost. The follow-through and coordination of individuals who need the most help is increasing because efforts are being made to help them where they are while facilitating steps for long term change.

What would you like to accomplish in the next year?

Housing, advocacy, and education are my priorities this year! The work that all agencies are doing to support and stabilize individuals is continually undermined because we don’t have enough places to transition someone releasing from a positive and safe environment into their own stable environment. We have wonderful resources in the community and each one of them works extremely hard to help but there remains a group of individuals that don’t fit the criteria for the housing opportunities we have, and we have to find a solution, or we will only continue to grow the problem. We also need to have strong messaging as to our concerns and how to create solutions in our community, as well as continue to educate and bring along anyone else who wants to join our efforts!

What do you contribute to the success of this work?

We truly have an amazing community and so many people who are willing and wanting to help! We are still learning about opportunities where we can collaborate and support each other with the same goal of helping this vulnerable population. Stabilizing individuals not only helps them, but it helps our community. I don’t think people realize the costs of people in crisis paid by the county, state, and taxpayers. The solutions aren’t just the right thing to do – they will also save us money in the long run.

In future blogs, I will talk more in-depth about the programs we have created and the incredible work the agencies are doing, because it is so important to remember that nothing changes without people willing to work differently, think differently and be willing to fail at something new. The collaboration and excitement for the work in which we are involved is inspiring!

How would someone connect if they felt they could help in some way with the work?

Please call me at the Trust, 243-2159 or email me at [email protected]. I would be happy to talk about any portion of the work and welcome community involvement.