SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — A local task force on homelessness has been pushing the city to allow tents in designated areas of Springfield. The City Council said the tent idea won’t be possible, but they are working on a solution.
City leaders agreed it is not their role to facilitate services for the homeless; it is the nonprofits’ role. However, challenges with cold weather and COVID-19 have caused City Council members to bring new ideas on fixing the problem in the long and short-term.
“I think on Christmas Eve, when the high is going to be 30-something degrees, the city should reach out to these organizations and say what’s your plan, and how can we facilitate that,” said Abe McGull, councilman of the city of Springfield.
Jason Gage, the city manager, said money could be made available to pay shelter staff who now volunteer for free.
“We currently have probably somewhere in the area of $140 or $150,000 in the contingency that we manage that could be put towards that,” said Gage.
Another short-term idea was using the city’s lease at the fairgrounds to provide more shelter space or asking campgrounds to allow for camping during slow winter months.
Police Chief Paul Williams said he is working with agencies to possibly set up co-responders, someone other than an officer to respond to calls about homelessness.
“We make sure everybody’s safe, then we get back to doing what we’re supposed to be doing and we leave the professionals, whether it be mental health or substance abuse issues or medical issues, dealing with that person we’ve encountered,” said Williams. “It’s just not an easy task to pull something like that off.”
City Council members said there is a disconnect between organizations that won’t help and how to address the need since cold weather shelters have consistently not reached capacity.
Williams said the co-responder model will play a big role in following up with people on the streets.