City and non-profits discuss possible solutions to addressing homelessness in Springfield

Local News

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – City and non-profit leaders met at Lake Springfield today for a workshop on addressing homelessness in our community. 

Topics ranged from breaking down numbers on those living without shelter, barriers to accessing resources, challenges with funding, and what more could help get folks back on their feet. 

The group consisted of City Council members, Community Partnership of the Ozarks (CPO), Safe to Sleep, Catholic Charities, and other community leaders who are part of the Springfield Alliance to End Homelessness.

An annual Point In Time survey of homeless in Springfield in 2020 found:

  • There were 247 unsheltered individuals (CPO reports the current number is approximately 500)
  • More than 75% were white males over the age of 35
  • About 10% were veterans
  • More than 65% reported they were living on the street or in a homeless camp.
  • 67% said they had been homeless for more than a year.
  • More than 80% said they were suffering from a disability, with 20% receiving state or federal benefits.
  • The majority reported their disability was related to mental health.

At least two City Councilman attending asked Community Partnership of the Ozarks how many of Springfield’s unsheltered individuals had previously been living in the Ozarks after allegedly hearing homeless individuals were sent here from other states.

Community Partnership of the Ozarks says they have not been told of any instances where individuals migrated to Springfield because they were bussed in from out of state.

Where are people coming from? Community Partnership of the Ozarks reports:

  • 69% of people seeking services came from Greene, Christian, or Webster County.
  • 61.5% said their last permanent address was inside the city limits of Springfield.
  • 18% came from other counties in Missouri.
  • 11% had migrated from other states.

CPO also says for the vast majority of the 11%, the reason for coming to Springfield was due to having family or friends in the area or were told of a job opportunity, not because of the available resources for homeless individuals.

CHALLENGES TO ADDRESSING HOMELESSNESS:

Community Partnership of the Ozarks says there is more demand for services right now than there are resources available. 

With about 500 unsheltered individuals in Springfield, CPO reports there are only 390 year-round beds at shelters, not including cold-weather shelters and hotels provided to individuals during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The alliance is currently working with a budget of about 1 million dollars a year, yet it reports it costs about $35,000 to get one individual out of homelessness.

The group says the biggest challenge it faces is a lack of affordable housing. CPO says many people living in shelters can get housing vouchers to pay rent on an apartment or home, but there are not enough affordable units in Springfield.

“Fair market rent that HUD (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) provides to us for 2021 was $595, and guess what? We cannot find that in our community, says Meleah Spencer, CEO of The Kitchen, Inc. is a video played during the workshop Thursday. “Right now, a one-bedroom is going anywhere from about $650 to $700.”

RECOMMENDATIONS AND SOLUTIONS:

Community Partnership of the Ozarks (CPO) wrapped up the workshop with a Call to Action, proposing a list of possible changes that could drastically improve homeless services and resources in Springfield.

To address a lack of affordable housing, CPO suggests using the Springfield Community Land Trust to bank properties that could house homeless people after someone leaves a shelter.

“We could easily add 35 to 40 units through the land trust if we had the resources,” says Janet Dankert, President, and CEO of CPO.

Michelle Garand, VP of Affordable Housing & Homelessness Prevention for CPO says she would like to create a buy-out program where Springfield could purchase vacant and nuisance properties and turn them into affordable housing.

“We have a lot of vacant properties, and we have a lot of nuisance properties; so by taking a hard look at that and finding exactly where they are and who owns them, and taking those back into our control, and being able to look at a buy-out program or something that would provide some of that subsidized housing and multi-use housing where the housing is needed the most,” says Garand.

Another idea was to partner with apartment owners and landlords to set aside specific units and make them available to those ready to leave the shelter.

“If we could just get landlords and real estate companies who would commit five units here, five units there for clients to move in to, that would solve a lot of these issues without even having to build something,” says Dankert.

Garand and Dankert say they would like to create at least one center where homeless individuals can go during the day, but not just for hanging out. Both say the centers could provide services for workforce development, access to mental health services, and a place for individuals to build relationships with the staff members working to help them.

Dankert says she would also like to see Springfield bring back the Homeless Court. Dankert says the homeless court is a no-cost way to get unsheltered individuals connected with services instead of just punishment. 

CPO also requested That Springfield take charge of a strategic plan for future funding. Dankert says our community could functionally end homelessness by 2022 if they had the resources.

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