Homelessness in Springfield: what can be done?

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Springfield City Council met Tuesday afternoon to discuss Springfield’s homelessness problem.  

Residents of Springfield have been sharing their concerns with city leaders about the increase in the homeless population.  

At Tuesday’s meeting, city leaders heard from President and CEO of Community Partnership of the Ozarks (CPO), Janet Dankert, and Vice President of Affordable Housing and Homeless Prevention Michelle Garand.  

Homelessness Increase 

From 2007 to 2017 the United States saw a gradual increase in the homeless population. According to Garand the reason for this increase is partly because of the HEARTH Act.  

On May 20, 2009, President Obama signed into law a bill to reauthorize HUD’s McKinney-Vento Homeless Act.  The HEARTH Act made numerous changes to the HUD’s homeless assistance programs.  

Those changes included:  

  • Homelessness prevention will be significantly expanded 
  • New incentives will place more emphasis on rapid re-housing, especially for homeless families 
  • The existing emphasis on creating permanent supportive housing for people experiencing chronic homelessness will continue although families could also be considered chronically homeless.  
  • Rural communities will have the option of applying under a different set of guidelines that offer more flexibility and more assistance with capacity building.  

For a decade these changes seemed to help the homeless population. However, in the past five years, studies have shown a surge of 30%.  

Something that worked to solve homelessness is now no longer working. What could have changed to cause homelessness to jump in just five years?

Insufficient income and lack of affordable housing are the leading causes of homelessness, according to National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. In 2012, 10.3 million renters (approximately one in four) had “extremely low incomes” (ELI) as classified by HUD. In that same year, there were only 5.8 million rental units affordable to the more than 10 million people identified as ELI. Additionally, only 31 out of every 100 of these affordable units were actually available to people identified as ELI.

After paying their rent and utilities, 75% of ELI households end up with less than half of their income left to pay for necessities such as food, medicine, transportation, or childcare.

The foreclosure crisis also played and continues to play, a significant role in homelessness. In 2008, state and local homeless groups reported a 61% rise in homelessness since the foreclosure crisis began.

 Approximately 40% of families facing eviction due to foreclosure are renters; the problem may continue to worsen as renters represent a rising segment of the U.S. population. For women, in particular, domestic violence is a leading cause of homelessness.

Garand says the COVID-19 pandemic may have caused an increase in the numbers as well.

Solution to homelessness:

  • An adequate supply of affordable housing
  • Access to services

Garand gave recommendations to the city leaders, one of them being an enhanced crisis response system.

The purpose of an enhanced crisis response system is for the system to identify and quickly connect people who are experiencing or are at high risk of experiencing homelessness to housing assistance and other services. The main goal of this system is to make homelessness rare, brief, and nonrecurring.

This type of system achieves its goal through outreach, coordinated entry, diversion and prevention, and emergency shelter.

The emergency shelter would be a way to get people off the streets in a quick manner. The emergency shelter would assist people in getting the proper services to reach their goals.

Garand says the main goal is to reach functional zero. Functional zero is a milestone that indicates a community has measurably ended homelessness for a population. However, there is no way to reach this goal if there isn’t affordable housing for the homeless.

Shelters in Springfield are currently full which is why an emergency shelter is essential, according to Garand.

Springfield will need to add 14,020 affordable housing units to accommodate the needs of those with extremely low incomes.

What is considered decent, safe, affordable housing?

 Affordable housing is generally defined as housing on which the occupant is paying no more than 30 percent of gross income for housing costs, including utilities.

As far as what would be considered decent and safe for a person to live in a house, it would have to have inspections performed by the Housing Authority. Garand also says HUDs have their own standard guidelines on what is considered safe.

City leaders brought up a concern that many others might possibly be thinking. How do we help those we may not want to be part of normal society?

At the meeting, Garand stressed the importance of building trust with these individuals. Living on the streets increases the likelihood of negative things happening. Garland says building that trust is a major key to bringing people back into society and providing adequate help for their needs, including mental health services.

However, more help is coming to the Springfield homeless population. Eden Village 2 is a northwest Springfield community of 24 new tiny houses. Those behind the project say Eden Village 2 focuses on folks who are both disabled and chronically homeless. Chief Visionary Nate Schlueter says the tiny homes are placed in a way that promotes friendship among neighbors.

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