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Sense of Community: Homelessness in the Ozarks

Patty Watkins/credit: Mike Smith

“You got to be on the streets long enough to learn what’s right and what’s not, and where you can stay and where you can’t.”   Her name is Patricia Watkins.  On the streets, she’s known as Patty.  She’s not a Veteran, but the day in mid-March when I caught up with her, she was occupying a small couch against the north wall of the Veteran’s Coming Home Center on North Jefferson in Springfield.  It’s a daytime only homeless outreach facility operated by the New Life Evangelistic Center.  I believe Patty to be in her 40’s.  I didn’t ask her age but I do know she’s one of over 660 individuals in the Springfield area considered unsheltered or homeless. The day we talked, she was wearing heavy green canvas coveralls over 2 other layers, including a bright yellow sweatshirt.

  “Patty, do you have a place you can call your own, even if it’s a tent somewhere?”  “No, I sleep on porches, empty houses, garages, with friends, the Women’s Shelter sometimes.  Then I’m back to the usual of staying wherever.  You got to know where to go, what part of town.  The police are after us too much, so we got to watch where we go.”  “Where did you sleep last night Patty?”  “In the Women’s Shelter.”

Romona Baker is the Homeless Services Recourse Coordinator for the Council of Churches of the Ozarks.  “Yes, that would be the Safe to Sleep, Women’s Overnight Shelter.  Currently it’s at the Pathways United Methodist Church.”  Baker is credited with creating the Safe to Sleep program, which provided overnight shelter to single unaccompanied adult homeless females.  “Safe to Sleep has been in existence for about a year and a half now.  I helped with the start of the cold weather shelters for men and women during the previous winter.  We saw the need for women to be in, even in the summer.  We realized there are women who were in danger, who were living on the street”.

Patty Watkins:  “I don’t know if somebody’s going to come up in the middle of the night to stab me or shoot me.  You never know, that’s the chance you’re taking.” 

Mike Smith:  Now I do see a little mark under your right eye Patty.  Were you assaulted recently?”

Patty Watkins:  “I ran into a door…”

Michelle Garand is Director of Housing for the Community Partnership of the Ozarks.  In partnership with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, CPO facilitates the Continuum of Care Program.  CoC provides housing, shelter and services for homeless families and individuals.  “Each year, twice a year, CoC conducts a homeless count event.  January 31stwas our latest count, and across the board, were staying at around 662 individuals over the last 3 years.  Really, the goal is to take a snapshot of who is homeless and what kind of barriers they are facing.”

Patty Watkins:  “There’s no jobs here in Springfield.  That’s one of our problems, there’s no work.  I was a CNA for 14 years and a Physical Therapist for 5.  Seems to me, you go to fill out an application at places, and they see you with a backpack or bag, they want nothing to do with you.  Now, if I left the backpack behind, maybe they’d have more time to talk to me.  But I don’t always have a place to put my backpack”.

Mike Smith:  “What are your dreams Patty?” 

Patty Watkins:  “I want to get into an apartment somewhere, and I want to get a job. That’s my goal.  That’s what I’m working for. 

Mike Smith:  “What do you want folks listening to this, to know about you as a person Patty?”

Patty Watkins:  “I’m a nice person, you know.  I’m out here on the street.  It’s not by choice.  I don’t want the public to be afraid of the homeless.  We need help….that’s the bottom line, we need help.”

When our Sense of Community Series continues at 4:30 this afternoon, we return to the Veterans Coming Home Center where we will meet Monte Stetler, a 47 year old homeless Army Veteran.

For the Sense of Community Series on KSMU and, I’m Mike Smith.