A Multi-Agency Resource Center, operated at Kearney and Glenstone last week by the Ozarks Alliance to End Homelessness and area service organizations, was more successful than organizers dared to hope.
Ninety of the more than 230 served came from a homeless camp nearby in the 2000 block of E. Kearney that was being vacated. One man had been living there for 25 years. During a press conference Tuesday, Michelle Garand, deputy director of affordable housing and homeless prevention at Community Partnership of the Ozarks, said 48 of them are in temporary shelter and awaiting permanent housing. She said they're providing intensive case management to all 90 "to make sure they're connected to services."
According to Garand, when they launched the MARC with the help of the Greene County Office of Emergency Management, they wanted to be sure people's most critical needs were met, including immediate housing, healthcare, access to mental health services and substance abuse treatment. Their biggest worry, she said, was "not who will be there to serve the homeless but will the homeless come to receive services?" The work of Gathering Friends, she said, made all the difference.
"They've been building trust within the homeless community for a great number of years," Garand said, "and really teamed up, and they did a lot of outreach to the camp to not only promote that this was a safe place to come, but they would receive respect, and they would receive services while onsite."
So far, five have received approval for permanent housing at Franciscan Villa, five were reunited with family and three were accepted at The Kitchen, Inc.'s emergency shelter. Many more will receive temporary housing at a shelter at E. Sunshine Church of Christ and food services from Victory Mission, according to Garand. "Permanent, supportive housing takes time," said Garand. "It will take a week or two, so we're providing shelter while they're on their way."
One young man, 18-years-old, had been in the Kearney Street camp for a few months after finding himself in an unfamiliar city with nowhere else to go. He was abandoned in Springfield by his father after an argument. The MARC helped him reunite with his godmother and gave him a bus ticket to go home. "She texted us as soon as he got home and thanked us so much for reuniting her with someone that she cares about quite a bit," said Garand.
The camp in the 2000 block of E. Kearney is estimated to have been there for at least 30 years.
Jim O’Neal, board member of the alliance, said the way they approached the removal of the camp should keep people from moving to homeless camps elsewhere in the city.
"It's pretty hard to fill out an application for a job when your address is, 'I live under a tree,'" he said. "We don't want to spread homelessness by breaking up a homeless camp. Think about it. The logic is that we have taken 233 people into the system who, previously, for the most part, were not there."
According to O'Neal, this is just the beginning of the process of receiving help for the more than 230 people who went to the MARC last week. "They're going to be moving through different service agencies, the assessments to try to direct where they need to go and who they need to see," said O'Neal.
He’s appealing to property owners to take action to prevent homeless camps from forming since he said the camps have a significant negative impact on nearby properties. One way to do that, he said, is to clear out underbrush so the property becomes more transparent. According to O’Neal, the Ozarks Alliance to End Homelessness plans to hold seminars so property owners can learn their rights and responsibilities.
He said the city needs people with homeless camps on their land and those with property nearby, "to follow the right protocol, give letters of enforcement to the city, post the no trespassing signs and then the notice is effective, and when there is a homeless encampment that begins to build, it can be effectively dealt with quickly before it becomes anything close to the size and scope of the one that we just had to deal with."
According to O'Neal, they're committed "to an expanded enforcement effort." But at the same time, he said, they want to treat the homeless population with compassion. Taking them off the street and into permanent housing, he said, is "the ultimate solution."