In this tenth and final part of our series, Unsheltered, we look at how other communities are using federal CARES Act funds to shelter their homeless citizens—and ask whether Springfield might glean insights from their experiences.
Each community’s response to homelessness during the pandemic has been unique. And in a year when extraordinary sums of money are flowing from federal CARES Act coronavirus relief funding, this has led to some creative solutions nationwide.
In Huntington Beach, California, coronavirus relief funds are going toward a massive, insulated tent that’s been erected to house the unsheltered.
The City of Reno is reportedly planning to use a whopping one-fifth of its coronavirus stimulus funds on a “super-shelter” that will be in use for years to come, providing a solution for that city’s longstanding lack of shelter space.
And the community of Missoula, Montana is building on private land a Temporary Safe Outdoor Space, or TSOS, for about 40 people, complete with a warming tent on platforms, medical services, waste removal and food from a local food bank. That was a team effort between that county’s United Way, Office of Emergency Management, law enforcement, public health officials, private businesses and the faith community, according to the Missoula County Commission’s website.
Locally, hotel rooms for high-risk individuals, families to remain the priority
In Springfield, cold weather shelters are only open on nights that get down to freezing—and they’re limited in capacity now due to the pandemic. Read our coverage of that here.
So far, the Community Partnership of the Ozarks, which facilitates homeless services in Springfield, has
used CARES Act funding, as well as donations from foundations and the community, to put high-risk homeless residents in hotels through its Merciful Nights campaign.
“Because of underlying health conditions, we created a vulnerability assessment specific to COVID very early on,” said Adam Bodendieck, who oversees homeless services at CPO. That assessment took into consideration the heart, lungs and autoimmune deficiencies of local homeless residents, he said. You can find a breakdown of that funding at the end of this article.
When the pandemic suddenly hit, CPO also worked to divert families who were on the verge of homelessness, Bodendieck said.
CPO announced last week that it has just been awarded another $500,000 in CARES Act funding.
In a breakdown of those new dollars, Bodendieck said in an email that the new funds will also go toward the temporary hotel sheltering for vulnerable people. Some will go toward street outreach, and some will pay for staffing for oversight and additional case management, he said.
But as of now, it won’t go toward sheltering the more than 200 people without a place to stay who aren’t high-risk for COVID-19 complications.
I ask Bodendieck why CPO hasn’t used CARES Act money to pay for staffing or a facility for an emergency cold weather shelter—especially since there are cold nights when the city’s two emergency cold weather shelters are not open.
“It's hard to hire for because it is seasonal, for one, but you never know if it's going to be open,” he said.
Greene County has received around $34 million dollars of CARES Act funding, which is intended to help the community respond to the pandemic.
States and communities have interpreted the criteria for spending the funds in various ways, with several communities using the money to create long-term shelters.
Pastor: pandemic might be a sheltering opportunity
A new task force affiliated with the Springfield NAACP is examining homelessness, and it’s asked the City of Springfield to rethink how it approaches sheltering. In a letter to city officials late last month, the task force suggested the city consider using the former CVS pharmacy building on Sunshine Street and Glenstone Avenue as a shelter space.
Christie Love, pastor of The Connecting Grounds church in Springfield, is on that task force.
“I see some cities that have invested in new properties, and have built or renovated existing buildings to be used—not just for short-term shelter, but for long-term shelter as well,” Love said.
She said she’s researching cities that have built or renovated existing buildings to be used as long-term shelters, solving two problems in one.
She said the task force members want to “start a dialogue” with city leaders and encourage them to “think outside the box.”
Exploring shelters as a public health, safety and equity solution
Earlier in the pandemic, I joined a handful of other journalists in a Zoom session with Dr. Tom Insel, who served 12 years as Director of the National Institute of Mental Health, a component of the NIH. He said from a national perspective, this pandemic is the time for communities to do for the homeless population what they may not have done before: prioritize shelter.
“To not only take on the obligation to find them a safe place to live, but to make sure that they accept the obligation to take that place to live—because they will otherwise serve not only as a reservoir for virus, but as a vector for virus,” Insel said.
That’s because homeless are in and out of public places, often without masks or PPE, and many have underlying health conditions, he said.
“This is the opportunity to be able to actually find the way to be more compassionate and to take care of some of their needs as a public health issue,” said Insel.
Emergency shelters: more questions than answers
Adam Bodendieck said he’s as eager as anyone to find a compassionate solution to the lack of shelter in Springfield. But there are big challenges to creating new emergency shelters from scratch—like the sustainability of that shelter, he said.
“So if someone were to say, ‘Hey, we can make you a heck of a deal on an empty building.’ OK, great. That's a building. That's a starting point. What does the infill look like? What is it going to mean to get that building to where it can host, you know, however many people overnight that we need it to host? Who's going to staff that? Or are we going to need new volunteers for that?” Bodendieck said.
And those are critical questions that Springfield doesn’t have the answers to—not yet, at least. Also, Bodendieck says the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, which funds most homelessness programs, tends to prioritize rehousing, not emergency shelter.
Converting an old motel into a shelter
Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri used Greene County CARES Act money to secure a motel to use as a homeless shelter. It’s leasing it at no cost, courtesy of O’Reilly Hospitality, and the residents of the shelter will have access to case management, according to Maura Taylor, executive director of Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri.
Taylor said CPO’s One Door, the entry point for people seeking help with homelessness, is making referrals to the new shelter, which is already housing families, Taylor said.
“Some are coming from directly from homelessness that are being referred directly to us, and we are getting them housed as quickly as possible into the hotel,” Taylor said.
There are also a few units for medical respite for homeless women, Taylor said.
She said the Springfield community is looking for other funds, an effort spearheaded by the local Continuum of Care, the Ozarks Alliance to End Homelessness, that might lead to longer-term sheltering for both families and individuals.
“We're trying to look at where we can find long term sustainable funding. So that is ongoing as we speak,” Taylor said.
That effort includes both city leaders and service providers, she said.
Springfield City Manager Jason Gage said COVID-19 has changed the homeless situation dramatically, particularly when it comes to sheltering.
Gage said the area of homelessness and shelters is often seen as an “ancillary” issue by Springfield and many other municipalities; that is, it’s not among the core services expected of a city government like fire, police, or emergency dispatch services.
“And so sometimes it's pretty easy to say, ‘Well, it's government's responsibility, everything's government's responsibility. Well, we're a partner. And we're a partner with other agencies,” he said.
The area’s strong faith-based community and not-for-profit network “try to do their part” in meeting the needs of the unsheltered, Gage said. You can read our story on local churches and sheltering here.
Gage said local leaders follow the advice of experts within the local Continuum of Care and the Community Partnership of the Ozarks, the organization the City of Springfield contracts with to provide and orchestrate homeless services.
National experts like Dr. Tom Insel agree this historic pandemic has scrambled the pieces of the homelessness puzzle. Insel says that’s why it may be the perfect time for communities to consider a new approach to old problems.
The Greene County CARES Act portal shows CPO was awarded $376,762.80 in CARES Act funding on Sept. 3, 2020 and $75,000 on August 13, 2020. Additionally, it is set to receive another $500,000 in CARES Act funding, the organization has announced. Below are the details of CPO’s CARES Act funding, provided by Adam Bodendieck and Jacque Breedlove-Harness of CPO:
• The $75,000 went to hotel sheltering.
• The $376,762.80 was broken down as follows:
251,833.80 – Additional Hotel Sheltering
25,000 – Crisis Intervention Services (Rent/Utility Assistance)
34,944 – Health and Hygiene Supplies (Distributed through the O’Reilly Center for Hope)
64,985 – Community Transportation Hub (To Launch Closed-Loop Shuttle System Program at O’Reilly Center for Hope)
The latest $500,000 award will come in two disbursements of $250,000 each, CPO said. The first disbursement includes the following:
• $28,356 = Street Outreach and Case Management
• $195,350 = Hotel Sheltering (including staffing for oversight and additional case management)
Bodendieck said it had not yet been determined how much of the $195,350 will go toward the hotel rooms and how much will go toward oversight staffing and additional case management. CPO is hiring new staff with the funding, Bodendieck confirmed.
Additionally, CPO’s One Door program writes for Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) funds every year for its homeless intake services. CPO’s One Door is included in the CDBG budget as a City Council priority, since the coordinated entry system is mandated by HUD. Bodendeick said the CDBG funds received assist with direct service personnel salaries.
Cora Scott, a spokeswoman for the City of Springfield, said the city’s FY-2020 CDBG funds totaled about $1.5 million, and were broken down as follows:
a. CDBG Administration - $333,875
b. Planning & Neighborhood Conservation - $173,587
c. Affordable Housing - $677,305
d. ONE DOOR Central Intake (Homeless) - $104,468 Plus $100,000 CARES Act funds
e. Emergency Homeowner Repairs - $300,000
Public Services (13 agencies) - $217,663
Public Housing Repairs - $ 19,173