SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — With more people on the streets and less shelter capacity in the city of Springfield, local advocates believe tents could help.
Currently, it’s illegal for those without access to shelter to set up a tent. Homeless support groups are trying to persuade the city to allow tents in the city limits during the winter months.
The Springfield NAACP, The Connecting Grounds and other shelters formed a group called “The NAACP Economic Justice Task Force”. They say it could give people a fighting chance to survive as the cold weather settles into the Ozarks for the next few months.
On Nov. 30, the task force wrote a letter to the City Council, Mayor McClure, City Manager Jason Gage and Police Chief Paul Williams asking “unsheltered individuals be allowed the use of tents and tarps to create shelter for themselves through the end of the projected frost season, which is May 1, or the end of the social distancing restrictions in place due to COVID-19 — whichever is later.”
Springfield City Council has yet to put the topic on the agenda, but the city did reply with a letter of their own. The Council cited select dates showing shelters that did not reach capacity on nights they were open.
Within the City Council’s letter, it states the only way they could grant that request is “to broaden or waive a variety of zoning and other code provisions related directly to tent camping,” which is something that has not yet been done.
While the legal process plays out, people like Steven Lingrell are battling the elements every night on the streets of Springfield.
“Me and my wife, we just got back on the street,” says Lingrell. “We’ve been out here for about three weeks.”
A few months ago, Lingrell and his wife finally got into housing through the local One Door program through Community Partnership of the Ozarks. However, that’s when hard times came back around.
“I held a job for a few months, started collecting some money, and then I had a small stroke and lost my job,” Lingrell says. “The funding ran out at One Door.”
That put he and his wife back on the streets, in the shadows of the city – but this time, amidst a pandemic.
Christie Love, Pastor at Connecting Grounds, is a major advocate for the homeless. She says many are facing the same problem with fewer options at hand.
“It’s been a double whammy this year,” Love says. “We’ve got higher numbers of people finding themselves in positions they didn’t expect to be in and bed availability that’s been cut in half through COVID.”
For now, the city is encouraging more churches to open their doors, something less than 10 churches are currently doing, according to Love.
Even if more shelters do open, Lingrell says he and his wife currently can’t get into shelters as a couple.
“There’s only one shelter that takes married couples. It is very hard to get in there,” Lingrell explains. “They’ve got a waiting list, (it’s) majorly long. Going anywhere doesn’t work, unless we can do it together.”
Together, they are trying to survive. Lingrell says something as simple as a tent would make it much easier to stay warmer, dryer, and also give them a fighting chance at getting back on their feet.
“If I’d have to, I’d get on my hands on my knees and beg. It’s more than just saving our lives,” Lingrell says. “That would be a way to improve our lives so we don’t have to be where we are. A tent helps us stay clean long enough so we can go to a job interview and be presentable. It would give us a chance to improve and climb out of this hole.”
Lingrell says he hopes Springfield City Council will consider making an exception – even just for a few months.