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City Beat: City mulls day center for homeless people

ARPA funds proposed for shelter, outreach and affordable housing

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A day center for homeless residents of the city is being considered by Springfield City Council.

Council heard a proposal to fund the day center at its regular meeting Oct. 17. If approved, the center will be one use of the $7 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds the city set aside for projects related to homelessness and housing.

Currently, Springfield has only one day shelter for homeless people: the Veterans Coming Home Center. The unsheltered population has no other regular options for safety in extreme heat and cold. The proposed day center would be open year-round and would also provide social services and a place to spend time besides the street.

If the proposal from council’s ARPA Review Committee is approved at council’s Nov. 14 meeting, $3 million would go toward the center, which was proposed by the Community Partnership of the Ozarks Inc.

The rest of the $7 million set aside would go toward the following homelessness and housing projects:

  • $2.8 million for a noncongregate overnight shelter with space for about 25 people. These funds would join $2.2 million already allocated through the city’s Home-ARP allocation plan approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on Aug. 25. The joint funding would allow for the acquisition, construction or renovation of buildings to create one or more shelters as proposed by member agencies of the Ozarks Alliance to End Homelessness.
  • $650,000 for a respite house, storage facilities, showers and outreach efforts by The Connecting Grounds nonprofit.
  • $565,000 for affordable home ownership programs to be determined through a request-for-proposal process. An agency to administer the program has not yet been chosen, but the money might be used for rehabbing homes or to subsidize down payments.

Councilperson Matthew Simpson, who chairs the ARPA Review Committee, said at an Oct. 11 meeting that a day center is needed.

“I think we can see that there also is a glaring need for space for supportive services for individuals during the day,” he said.

The committee referred to the facility as a “purpose-driven day center.” The CPO proposal for the center explained that it would connect people with needed services, like health and legal assistance, while also providing a safe resting place with trauma-informed oversight.

Councilperson Abe McGull said at the committee meeting that a day center is a top need in the community.

“During the day, they are turned out like nomads, walking around the community, walking around Springfield with no place to go,” he said. “Day centers would give those social workers … the opportunity to address the pressing needs of those individuals and hopefully address the problem of people walking around aimlessly with nothing to do.”

As of Oct. 6, the homeless street census, maintained by The Connecting Grounds, showed homeless individuals numbering 2,435 in the city.

At the Oct. 17 council meeting, Councilperson Richard Ollis expressed a concern about the day center. He asked how the location would be established and if the standard public input process would be in place if a zoning change were required. City Manager Jason Gage said any land-use action would follow conventional processes.

“I certainly am in favor of doing our absolute best here, and I think the committee’s done a good job,” Ollis said. “I would encourage us to be very strategic in how we look at these locations as we move forward.”

A location has not been identified for the proposed center.

In addition to the housing and homelessness allocations, the ARPA Review Committee is recommending a $100,000 allocation to the Lincoln Memorial Cemetery, a historic burying place for members of the city’s African American community.

Cheryl Clay, a member of the cemetery’s board of directors, said the funds would allow the board to pave the gravel road inside the cemetery and to repair large concrete urns and stabilize headstones.

“In other words, it will complete some of our wish list,” she said.

Grant fights STDs
Syphilis rates have increased thirteenfold in Springfield since 2015, according to Springfield-Greene County Health Department officials.

“With 280 cases in the last year, that means every month we were doing the same number of cases we had in all 2015, so it’s certainly an alarming trend,” Health Department Assistant Director Jon Mooney told council members.

Mooney said the Health Department plans a focused effort to fight syphilis over the next two or three years with support from a $162,500 grant from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, through the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.

Council voted 8-0 to accept the grant. Councilperson Craig Hosmer was absent.

Mooney said the money would be used to hire two people with the technical expertise to investigate syphilis and with the case management skills to help people get treatment.

September data from the CDC show syphilis increased nationally by 26% from 2020 to 2021. Congenital syphilis, which infects fetuses in utero, rose 235% from 2016 to 2020.

“It can be an extremely serious disease at that point,” Mooney said. “It often can lead to miscarriage or, if the baby survives to birth, can lead to lifelong impacts, so it’s obviously something we are not OK with as a community.”

The grant also will be used to fight gonorrhea, which also is on the rise locally.

“The focus of this grant … is to really address syphilis to begin with and then more broadly other sexually transmitted infections in the coming years,” Mooney said.

He said the grant program also offers extensions to continue the work.

“It’s not just a one-time deal,” he said.

In April, the CDC published a 2020 STD Surveillance Report which found gonorrhea rose 10% from 2019 to 2020. Chlamydia, the most common sexually transmitted disease in the U.S., declined during that time by 13%, contributing to an overall decrease in total STDs to 2.4 million cases in 2020 from 2.5 million in 2019. 

Declines in reported STD cases may have been the result of a drop in in-person health care services, according to the CDC report, as routine doctor’s visits decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the grant agreement, the funding will cover STD surveillance, response to outbreaks, screenings, public information dissemination and the development of STD-related policy. It also will support HIV prevention goals.

Other action items

  • The city will share costs with the Missouri Department of Transportation for a Safe Transportation for Every Pedestrian workshop. The city has agreed to pay $7,500. The Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission received a State Transportation Innovation Council grant providing 80% of the cost, or $75,000, and the remaining 20%, or $15,000, will be equally shared by the city and MoDOT. Dan Smith, director of Public Works, said the city is seeing the need for a pedestrian safety workshop. Springfield Police Department numbers show seven pedestrian fatalities in 2021 and six to date in 2022. Safety audits will also be performed at several locations, Smith said.
  • Council granted conditional use permits for two automotive body repair and paint shops, one at 1025 W. Sunshine St. and the other at 1545 W. Republic St., and for an automobile service garage at 1306 W. Sunshine St. Council also OK’d zoning changes for 1 acre at 3050 E. Battlefield Road to office from single family; for 0.29 acres at 1331 N. Stewart Ave. to light industrial from general manufacturing; for 0.57 acres at 3767 S. Jefferson Ave. to general retail from office; and 3.3 acres at 1545 W. Republic St. to highway commercial from general retail.

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