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Community Partnership Working To Make Public Aware of Homelessness In Springfield

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Rare Breed
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November is Homeless Awareness Month, and the Community Partnership of the Ozarks is working to educate the public about unsheltered individuals in southwest Missouri.

During the Point in Time homeless count in January, mandated by the federal government, there were 82 unsheltered individuals.  But Michelle Hethcoat, special projects coordinator for Community Partnership, said that doesn’t tell the whole story.

"The reason that numbers sound relatively low is because that night was about six degrees," she said.  "Over 100 people sought emergency shelter that night and, so, those people, while they are normally unsheltered,  are not included in our unsheltered count.  We did count them in a sheltered count, but it makes that number sound a lot smaller than it really is."

She estimates there are around 200 people sleeping on the streets of Springfield on any given night.  And some of them are young people.

There’s a significant gap in services for that age group, according to Hethcoat.  That’s because the service system is largely set up to address adults, she said.

"If you're under 18, when you go to access any sort of service--you need to go to the doctor or the emergency room--you're expected to have a parent sign over for consent, so youth that are homeless on their own without a parent or guardian can't sign," she said.  "They don't have any way to give consent for healthcare, to sign a lease, to access any of those basic resources that you and I can access easily with a signature."

There are solutions to the problem, she said, but they must start at the state legislature through an enforceable qualified minor statute, "so that a youth that was defined as homeless without a parent would be able to sign at, say, 16 or 17 years of age for their own medical care and other needs," said Hethcoat.

There are events planned this month for anyone who wants to learn more about homelessness in Springfield, including a Community Conversation on Homelessness November 7 at 5 at the Springfield Art Museum. 

"We're going to work to dispel some of those myths around homelessness that a lot of people believe and they think to be true but aren't entirely true," said Hethcoat.

That event will include a panel discussion.  Other events include tours of area organizations that help the homeless and an awards ceremony for organizations and individuals making a difference in the area of homelessness.  

As temperatures drop, cold weather shelters are open in Springfield:  One for men and one for women, and volunteers are vital to keeping them open, according to Hethcoat.  

"Those shelters are essential to keep people alive and avoid frostbite, hypothermia and, frankly, death from cold," she said.

Learn more about volunteer opportunities and about events planned as part of Homeless Awareness Month at cpozarks.org/endhomelessness.