Springfield City Council declared an “economic and housing access calamity” at its Nov. 14 meeting.
Though the language may sound dire, it was a regular piece of housekeeping for council, which has renewed the resolution every two years starting in 2009.
Bob Atchley, senior city planner, explained the resolution to council, noting, “It allows us to continue to give individuals, churches and nonprofits that are able to meet the city’s building safety and health codes the ability to be able to provide food and lodging to the unemployed and the working poor in our community.”
Atchley said Springfield continues to meet conditions requiring the declaration – namely a poverty rate that is nearly double the statewide level.
“I do think we’re making some headway, but being very open, the city’s poverty level is still considerably higher than the state average,” he said.
Atchley said the most recent census data puts the state poverty level at 12.7%, while Springfield’s is 21.7%.
Michelle Garand, vice president of affordable housing and homeless prevention with Community Partnership of the Ozarks Inc., told council that in 2021, the city’s year-round Safe to Sleep shelter for women who are homeless provided over 6,500 bed nights for 281 women.
Crisis cold weather shelters, which she said run November through March, were open 62 nights last year, serving an average of 152 people with 9,305 bed nights.
The highest use occurred in January, Garand said.
“We’re starting a little early this year, so I’m not excited about that,” she said.
Garand told council the crisis cold weather shelter program is expanding.
“We are proud to say that through the expansion of shelter sites last year, no one seeking shelter was turned away from a warm place to sleep last year,” she said. “This is thanks to 10 churches and organizations and countless, countless volunteers that were able to serve our most vulnerable during the coldest winter months, and this is all thanks to this economic and housing access calamity declaration.”
Garand said the declaration ensures safety standards for shelters that serve a vulnerable population.
“The declaration creates an opportunity for our community to come together to use our skills to address a need,” she said.
The shelters, coordinated by CPO, operate when the forecast is below 32 degrees, and they are open between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m., according to the CPO website.
Garand said when conditions are extreme, 15 degrees or colder, the shelters serve about 210 people a night, with two additional shelters opening to increase capacity.
“All totaled we have 295 beds available on those coldest nights,” she said.
Councilperson Andrew Lear, who said he strongly supported the declaration, asked Garand if more volunteers are needed, and she offered an emphatic yes.
“I’ll use this pulpit to ask the public listening that this is a dire need,” Lear said. “We joke about needing snowshoes and going to meetings in the cold, but we have homes to go home to.”
Garand said one recent addition to the cold weather shelters allows couples to stay together overnight, and another allows people to bring their pets.
“Through all of that we’ve met capacity, but I think we could always use more, and we’ll be working to that,” she said.
Though Garand noted no one was turned away in 2021, she stressed that some needs remain unmet.
“That doesn’t mean we didn’t have people that probably, certainly needed to come inside,” she said.
In addition to the calamity declaration, council authorized an appropriation of $7 million in American Rescue Plan Act state and local fiscal recovery funds to serve people experiencing housing needs or homelessness.
Councilperson Matthew Simpson, who chaired the body’s ARPA committee, said that was one of the top priorities identified in the resident survey for ARPA fund disbursement.
Funding will address critical needs at every step in the housing continuum, Simpson said. Allocations were for $2.8 million to the city’s Home-ARP allocation plan to provide one or more non-congregate shelters; $3 million to CPO to provide a purpose-driven day center; $650,000 to The Connecting Grounds for a respite house, storage facility, showers and outreach; and $565,000 for affordable home ownership programs to be determined through a request-for-proposal process.
Art Zone LLC, Launch Virtual Learning Center and The Permit Shop relocated.