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With winter coming, church that helps Springfield’s homeless reports twice the number of unsheltered individuals

Springfield community volunteers gathered with unsheltered residents for Hope Connection, a Community Partnership of the Ozarks event intended to connect homeless people with critically needed services.
Community Partnership of the Ozarks
Springfield community volunteers gathered with unsheltered residents for Hope Connection, a Community Partnership of the Ozarks event intended to connect homeless people with critically needed services. The COVID-19 pandemic made putting on such events difficult, but CPO's Ozarks Alliance to End Homelessness is busy preparing for crisis cold-weather shelters to activate between Nov. 1, 2022 and March 30, 2023.

Recently a church in Springfield serving unsheltered people came out with its latest “Street Census.” Compared to 12 months ago, church officials found the number of homeless individuals in the area has doubled — even as volunteer preparations for this year's crisis winter shelters kick into high gear.

In Springfield, most attempts to address homelessness fall to nonprofits and churches that host outreach programs and shelters. Meanwhile, city government is spending at least $12.3 million on housing and homelessness relief using taxpayer money provided by the federal government from last year’s American Rescue Plan Act.

The Connecting Grounds is just one of the churches involved, mainly through outreach. Pastor Christie Love explained that when she and her team meet with unsheltered people seeking help, they try to list them in what they call the Street Census. To fill out their list, they make a point of using the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s approach to defining homelessness.

Love told KSMU, “...We’ll ask them what category they fall into: Are they on the streets, or in a camp? Are they in the cars? Are they at a program or a shelter, staying with friends and family, in a hotel? — what does that look like? All of those are part of HUD’s definition of homelessness.”

Their latest census — released October 6 — counted 2,435 individuals living without a permanent home in the Springfield area.

That represents a big jump. Twelve months ago, Love told the Springfield News-Leader that in October 2021, the Street Census included roughly 1,200 people.

She said that in February 2021, the count stood at 933 people — meaning the Street Census has grown by more than two-and-a-half times in less than two years. Love emphasized that her church makes every effort to be accurate by removing folks from the Street Census if they move into permanent safe housing, leave the area — or die.

The pastor said you can blame COVID-19 for the big jump in homelessness.

“I think a lot of what we’re seeing right now, is just the continuing, lingering impact of COVID." Love told KSMU recently. "You know, we know from our most recent work readiness study that we released a couple of weeks ago that over 40 percent of people said that they were on the streets because they had lost their job or income due to COVID.”

Love said that as winter months approach, her fear is that the number of folks without a home will greatly exceed the number of cold-weather shelter beds available. Among the 2,400-plus people listed in the Street Census, 785 individuals face very difficult circumstances. They’re living on the streets or in encampments.

“The problem is, 785 people are out there without a stable place to be, but the number of crisis cold weather shelter beds is essentially the exact same as last year,” Love said.

Another key fact: In the Springfield area, temporary cold-weather shelters activate between November 1 and March 30, but only when nighttime temperatures fall to 32 degrees or below.

Adam Bodendieck is one of the leaders of the Ozarks Alliance to End Homelessness. They coordinate the wintertime shelters.

Bodendieck said, “When the cold-weather season ends in March, typically that very next month we start planning for the following season. And so especially right now, we are really in the thick of it — and have been for quite a few months.”

The Alliance is linked to the Community Partnership of the Ozarks, a nonprofit the City of Springfield uses to orchestrate homeless services. CPO works in more than 20 counties in the Ozarks. Unlike The Connecting Grounds, the Alliance is part of Springfield’s federally recognized Continuum of Care — one of eight similar Continuums in Missouri that are working to address homelessness all over the state.

The Continuum groups participate in an annual census of homeless people taken during January or February called the Point in Time Count. According to HUD, the most recent Point in Time Count for the Springfield area included 583 people — much less than The Connecting Grounds’ census.

Bodendieck said it’s important to understand that the Point in Time Count isn’t meant to be the definitive number of homeless individuals in the area. It’s one wintertime snapshot of people needing help.

The Alliance also watches a number called the Active Prioritization List. Right now, Bodendieck said that list includes roughly 415 households, or about 800 individuals. The list includes people who fit two of HUD’s four categories of homeless folks: People literally living on the streets — and people fleeing domestic violence, human trafficking and sexual assault.

As they monitor the numbers, they’re planning to serve as many as possible.

Bodendieck said, “The goal every year is to expand, right? We want to increase capacity with crisis cold-weather shelters.”

The Alliance is expecting about 195 crisis cold-weather shelter beds to be available when shelter season starts on November 1. Bodendieck said they’ll ramp up to about 250 beds in January. He called those numbers “comparable” to their shelter capacity offered last year. And, he said, last winter, nobody who needed cold-weather crisis shelter was turned away.

Bodendieck also shared some of the greatest needs the Alliance and its membership have right now.

He said, “If there’s any place that’s interested in learning more about potentially being a sheltering site, we would love to connect, we would love to talk and see if that’s a possibility. On top of that, we need individual volunteers. These efforts — through a lot of our faith community partners and churches and others — they rely on volunteers.”

To learn how to volunteer, visit the Community Partnership of the Ozarks at

Gregory Holman is a KSMU reporter and editor focusing on public affairs.