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'Hope Connection' Provides Relief, Answers to Springfield Homeless Community

credit: Community Partnership of the Ozarks

The Community Partnership of the Ozarks teamed up local partners Wednesday to present the Hope Connection event in Springfield. As KSMU’s Samuel Crowe reports, the annual event provides services to the local homeless community struggling to gain a foothold in their lives.

SOUND: crowd inside Springfield Expo Center

Inside the Springfield Expo Center, 330 volunteers partnered up with over 500 homeless individuals to help them access vital services, such as housing, work, healthcare, education, a sloppy joe sandwich, even a haircut.

SOUND: woman getting a haircut

By providing a one stop, one service site for the homeless, Hope Connection is streamlining services that Michelle Garand says are providing immediate relief for homeless people and their families. Garand is the director of the housing office for the Community Partnership of the Ozarks, and she emphasized that all the services at the Hope Connection event are outcome oriented.

“This is not a ‘hand you a brochure and call me on Monday’ type of event. When an individual is seated across from a provider, it is as if it’s his first appointment, the first appointment for that service. So they leave with an appointment, they leave with a service, or they leave with an outcome of some kind,” Garand said.

One of these outcomes is better vision, thanks to local optometrists like David Pierce who are volunteering their time to give eye exams. Pierce takes his time to explain to Jessica Vandemark what it means to have near-sighted retinas.

“It just means that the optic nerve of the blood vessels and nerves in your eye look a little different than everybody else’s. It doesn’t mean that you have a problem, it just means that it doesn’t look like everybody else’s,” Pierce said.

After receiving a new lens prescription, Vandemark heads over to a table to pick out and get fitted for new frames. She tells me she and her family have been homeless for four months, and they live in the Missouri Hotel in Springfield.

“We recently moved from Pennsylvania for a fresh start. My job I had lined up fell through, so we ended up with no money and living in our car with our two kids. We needed someplace to go,” Vandemark said.

Vandemark says she came to get information on Medicaid and housing after her visit to the eye doctor. I ask her what Hope Connection means to her and her family.

“It means that people care about us. The street I live on – Commercial Street – people will blatantly avoid us because they think we’re scum. But we’re not. We’re normal people, we just have bad luck,” Vandemark said.

Cody Pickett has been homeless off and on for the past couple years. He came to Hope Connection to receive a flu shot, and for clothing vouchers from the Salvation Army. While he admits times have been tough, he’s grateful for the community and its efforts to help him find stability.

“Springfield is a great place. It really is. A majority of the time everybody pours in to try and help. It’s well appreciated,” Pickett said.

Thanks to 35 local service providers, and a record number of volunteers at Hope Connection, Michelle Garand says the event is helping relieve the stigma that’s attached with the homeless community.

“They’re trying hard, and the barriers are large. Sometimes it’s a simple barrier of ‘I don’t have an address to get this application mailed back to me. I don’t have an I.D. I don’t have transportation to get to my appointment.’ So that just becomes a domino effect, where they just can’t get that footing to be stabilized. It just puts that into perspective for individuals who may take their freedom for granted,” Garand said.

For KSMU News, I’m Samuel Crowe.