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Numbers from Homeless Count May Not be Reflective of People in Need

Every One Counts Campaign
Every One Counts CampaignPhoto Credit: KSMU

Last week, several area organizations dedicated to working with the homeless took part in the bi-annual Homeless Count in Greene, Christian and Webster counties.  As the tallies come in, organizers say the numbers are down.  But as KSMU’s Theresa Bettman reports, that doesn’t necessarily mean the homelessness problem is improving.  

“I go by Wulf.  Spelled W-U-L-F.  I don’t spell it with the ‘O’ like everyone else.  I mean I’m different, I don’t follow anybody’s trend; I make my own.  I have been making my own way since I was 16 years old.  There’s no reason to stop now,” Wulf says.

A Vietnam War Veteran, Wulf has been homeless for many years.  Wulf says he sleeps under a bridge, only to stay with a friend if the weather turns severe. Then it’s back to his bridge.

“I’m still not giving up on anything.  That’s not my way.  Quit is not in my vocabulary,” says Wulf.

Michelle Garand, a spokesperson with Affordable Housing and Homelessness Prevention, says around 25 percent of the homeless population has served in some branch of the military.  She adds that this figure is misleading due of the many more that are in hiding because they don’t trust services.

Garand explains that another large percentage of the homeless population is youth under 18 years old.  She says they account for more than 50 percent of those on the streets. 

The Salvation Army was the central point for last week’s “Every One Counts” campaign.  Many area organizations and numerous volunteers worked together to provide supplies like sunscreen, bug spray, tents, and meals to the area’s homeless population.  This was also an opportunity to get to know those they are serving better.

Will Carter, with Community Partnership of the Ozarks, observed first-hand the data collection from one roving team during last week’s count. 

“Almost immediately upon arriving down there [Park Central Square], I think the big trend we saw was the number of homeless youth.  As we approached them they all had different stories, but a lot of them it may have gotten in trouble and their parents kicked them out.  Others had issues at home and because of that they were separating,” Carter says.

Although the roving team spoke to many youth last Thursday, overall they were surprised to find less people than expected. 

“We always try to figure out why we don’t have as many as we expected or have had in the past. 

Ramona Baker is a spokesperson with the Council of Churches.

“It’s difficult to say.  It’s a pretty day.  It’s the first of the month and a few of the people who are homeless get some kind of little check.  So, today they have a little money and they don’t have to be homeless for a couple of days,” says Baker.

Baker, Carter and Garand all agree that the numbers do not reflect the real problem.  Surveys collected this time indicate 109 unsheltered homeless, and 205 utilizing shelters and services; totaling 314.  However, all three suggest that many people are simply not asking for help.  For example, Garand says that last November they surveyed as many as 500 youth alone.  She adds that shelters remain at capacity year around.

“You know I don’t think I will ever think things are improving until homeless in really no longer an issue in our community.  Until someone comes to me and says ‘I don’t have a place to live’ and I can find a place for them.  Right now, if someone tells me they are homeless, living on the streets, and want to come inside I have a challenge finding them a place to stay,” Garand says.

Garand says the local trends match that of Missouri state-wide. 

For KSMU News, I’m Theresa Bettmann.

 

KSMU’s Shane Franklin contributed to this story.