Larry Barnard serves as an example of why Wednesday’s HOPE Connection and Veteran Stand Down event in downtown Springfield exists: To end homelessness.
A volunteer this year, Barnard was a past beneficiary of the services HOPE Connection offered, from healthcare to employment. The retired veteran moved to Springfield to be with his daughter. After she passed away, he lived on the streets for three and a half years.
“They’ve helped me get a bunch of paperwork, and stuff I needed to get housing, they’ve helped me get housing, and I’ve been in a place now for six months,” said Barnard.
Today he’s volunteering to give back what he received, wanting to help someone who is in the position he once was.
The Community Partnership’s Ozarks Alliance to End Homelessness expects to help over 650 homeless individuals during the 8th Annual HOPE Connection & Veteran Stand Down Event. It continues until 4 pm at the Springfield Expo Center.
There are many different services available to homeless individuals, according to Amanda Stadler, the chair of this year’s HOPE Connection Planning Committee.
She says, “It is direct service, so we have about 65 different agencies represented here today, they are offering everything from birth certificates and state ID’s, to haircuts, to vision examines, to foot care, so a whole wide array of services.”
Stadler says that while the need has grown within Springfield, so has community investment.
When a homeless individual arrives at the EXPO Center, they are matched with one of 400 volunteers that assist them with any need they might require.
Staff members from the Veterans Administration were also present to help homes service members. Michelle Reinmiller is a social worker for Heath Care from Homeless Veterans and member of the leadership team for Stand Down HOPE Connect.
“We at the VA readily understand that we cannot cure homeless veterans ourselves, we cannot put an end to that ourselves, we have to work with our community partners, and that’s what’s so great about this event, all these services under one roof,” says Reinmiller.
Over the years, she has seen how this event has touched the lives of veterans. When it first started, there was only one VA staff member present. Now, there is a whole side of the EXPO Center dedicated to helping homeless veterans.
She adds, “I’ve seen it be like a ripple effect, they start opening up to one person, and maybe divulge one need; housing. That leads to the next need, maybe they’re suffering from mental health issues, the next need, employment, and getting these services all under one roof in one day is so paramount.”
Some of the volunteers are students, who gain practical experience in their studies while helping the homeless. That includes those studying at Cox College, who Wednesday were providing eye examinations. Amy Queen described the scene as “awe-inspiring.”
“In our program we learn a lot about not only nursing skills, but community involvement…we learn a lot about obviously eye care, educating people on how to take care of their eyes and their vision, and so we’re using that knowledge today to kind of help people that maybe don’t otherwise have an opportunity to gain that information,” says Queen.
She notes that even though she had not been there for long, she could already see how the event was affecting the lives of these homeless individuals, and how grateful they were for these services.
Veteran social worker Michelle Reinmiller adds, “We couldn’t make this event happen without all the volunteers and all the community support, and we are so very grateful.”
For more information about helping the homeless in Springfield, click here.