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Ending Homelessness: Shelter Struggles

SPRINGFIELD, Mo.-- Last night we brought you the story of a young man named Colton who, at age 17, left home in the name of independence and found a not-so-beautiful sense of freedom in the streets of Springfield.

"I was sleeping in tunnels just across the street,” he recalls.

What we didn't get a chance to tell you, was how after years of living in tunnels and under bridges he gave in-- and committed to living in a group shelter

"It was part of the Missouri Hotel," he says.

According to Colton the transition from the lawless streets to the ultra-controlled group shelter environment was tough.

"I couldn't do what I want when I wanted," he says.

Along with a list of unfamiliar rules, Colton and his wife Abbie both say shelter communities often grew dangerously codependent.

"There was like this brotherhood of like 'If you get kicked out I'm walking out with you.’," Abbie says. 

Most dangerous of all, Colton says he only ever learned how to live in a shelter...

"I didn't really feel like I was on my own," Colton says.

And while the struggles of shelter structure were new for Colton, they're actually something many in the homeless community have already experienced.

"Congregate shelter has significant problems," says Randy McCoy.

McCoy, Director of Housing for the Kitchen Inc. says, he's sure the Missouri Hotel was well intentioned.

"You could keep them for eighteen months and you provided everything in that one building," McCoy says.

But looking back he says it was a clearly flawed system.

"We taught people how to live and function very well in an institutional setting,” he explains. “They had no support and no help in making that transition and you saw lots and lots of people cycle through the program multiple multiple times."

In the name of protecting the majority of those living in the shelter, there were strict acceptance guidelines put in place.

"You've taken those that fit into the model the best and you serve them," says McCoy.

Leaving those with more complicated, delicate cases out to fend for them.

"Those who require more services, those who are less likely to end their homelessness on their own, you've put them back out on the street with no services for them," McCoy says.

Places like the Missouri Hotel not only created a support system excluding those who need it most.

"We created a nice round hole program. The square people didn't fit," he says.

They also created a shelter cycle that discouraged those people like Colton...

"I went from non-structured to very structured,” Colton says.

Lucky for him, there was still one more option left... it would be the final stop on his journey out of homelessness.

"I was able to move into my own apartment and put my name on a lease," he says.


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