Community Partnership’s Ozarks Alliance to End Homelessness has launched a new campaign to further its mission.
The “Every Action Counts: A Homeless Awareness Campaign,” announced Wednesday, kicks off a series of events this month and serves as a response to OAEH’s January homeless count.
Amanda Stadler, the organization’s neighborhood and housing stabilization specialist, shared the results of that count during a press conference at the Springfield Art Museum.
“So every year, communities have to do a count of the number of people that are experiencing homelessness within their community,” Stadler said. “So our last count, which we conducted this January, showed that there were 455 individuals who were homeless, and approximately 200 of those were unsheltered.”
That number includes 43 homeless families, 190 people that are chronically homeless, 34 veterans, and 93 youth and children.
“Unsheltered,” Stadler said, means structures or areas in the community that are not adequate for human habitation.
The organization’s annual Point-In-Time Count is conducted in Greene, Webster and Christian counties.
Lynn Schirk is homeless liaison for Springfield Public Schools. She said Wednesday that the number for youth and children experiencing homelessness in the local public school system is much higher than the 93 listed in the report. That’s when accounting for those who qualify under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act signed into law in 1987.
“Right now, our current count for youth experiencing homelessness, is just over 1,100,” Schirk said.
Schirk said the discrepancy is due to the law’s broad definition, she says, in that it includes any minor who has lost their permanent place of residence due to an economic hardship or family crisis.
“Within that number, that includes youth who are doubled-up, who are couch surfing, who are staying in hotels or motels, staying with (a) grandma, aunt (or) cousin,” Schirk said. “It also includes those who are staying in shelters — or unsheltered — staying in cars, parks (and) abandoned buildings.”
The campaign announced Wednesday is part of an effort to reduce the numbers tallied from January’s report and those in the public school system.
One event this month is “The Road I Call Home” portrait exhibit on Friday created by Randy Bacon. The local photographer is partnering with the campaign and the non-profit Gathering Friends for the Homeless.
Bacon shared several of his photographs at the press conference, and said by 2019 the Springfield Art Museum will showcase the full collection.
Bacon said the project was created out of his passion for the people around him. He said it’s easy to get lost in a crowd of people, especially if you’re living on the street. He said bringing these stories to light will bring awareness to this population.
“Society tends to judge way too quick, and that included me years ago,” Bacon said. “(But) as I got to know some homeless people, I realized ‘Hey, these are my friends now.’ And as I learned their stories, I’m like ‘people need to know the backstory.’”
Bacon said initially his goal was to capture the stories of 15 homeless individuals. Since it started in 2008, the project has eclipsed 150 stories and continues to grow.
Kevin was the first person featured in this project. Bacon says the man would walk into his gallery and he would politely ask Kevin to leave. Eventually, the two began to talk and a friendship began.
“Kevin is, without a doubt, one of my best friends,” Bacon said. “He’s pretty much a brother.”
Bacon said the man was homeless for years and recently lost his fiancé in a traffic accident. But Kevin now has a home.
“And I think that’s kind of the point of it — is that if you’re homeless now, that doesn’t mean you have to be homeless forever and that you cannot become a part of society where dreams, and your purpose and plans are fulfilled,” Bacon said. “(Kevin) is an example of that.”