Of the nearly 250 homeless people who were surveyed earlier this year, 37% said they had been harmed (physically, emotionally or sexually) by someone they were staying with while homeless, including 62% of the women surveyed.
Most of those surveyed (67%) reported having been homeless for a duration of a year or more.
These are some of the key findings from the 2020 Unsheltered Point-In-Time Survey shared Friday at a press conference at the O’Reilly Center for Hope.
The survey was conducted in Springfield and Greene County in January.
Every year, communities across the country complete the annual “Point-in-Time” count of people experiencing homelessness on a given night. These federally mandated counts provide important insight into each community’s homeless population.
Locally, this effort is led by the Ozarks Alliance to End Homelessness, which serves as the Continuum of Care for Springfield/Greene, Christian and Webster counties.
The data was collected at two events held in downtown Springfield on Jan. 30, 2020: one for adults and one targeting youths. Outreach surveys were also collected.
All told, nearly 250 people who were experiencing homelessness on the night of Jan. 29 participated in the survey.
Dr. Laura Hart with Missouri State University’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology presented the data Friday.
Hart pointed out that the Point-in-Time count happened before the pandemic and she believes the numbers would be higher today.
More key findings from the report:
- The majority of participants (76.6%) were 35 years or older;
- Men comprised 75.5% of the sample while women and transgender individuals comprised 23.5% and 1% respectively;
- Most participants (77%) self-identified as being white. Nearly 8% identified as Black or African American, 8.4% identified as American Indian or Alaska Native and 7.1% identified as Hispanic/Latino;
- On the night of Jan. 29, 2020, 68% reported having slept on the streets or in a homeless camp. The second most cited location was a local shelter (14.5%) followed by a vehicle or car (5%). (The overnight temperature on Jan. 29 dipped to 31 degrees, so the crisis cold weather shelters were open on that night);
- Most participants (81.4%) reported having at least one disabling condition, but only 21.1% were receiving disability benefits of any kind. Mental health was the most commonly cited disability (61.2%), followed by physical disability (52.1%), a chronic health condition (21.5%), drug abuse (19%), alcohol abuse (17.4%), a developmental disability (5%) and HIV/AIDs (0.8%);
- Forty-three percent of participants reported having been a victim of domestic violence; 81% of females reported have been a victim of domestic violence, both of the transgender individuals who responded said they had been victims of domestic violence, and 28.5% of men said they had been victims of domestic violence.
COVID-19 impacts the most vulnerable
Adam Bodendieck, director of homeless services for Community Partnership of the Ozarks, shared information about how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted services and the homeless community.
“Since March we have facilitated hotel shelter for individuals and families, particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 due to age, pregnancy and underlying health conditions,” Bodendieck said. “There are currently 265 people being sheltered in more than 125 hotel rooms.”
In March, members of the Ozarks Alliance to End Homelessness Coordinated Entry System began collecting data via a Community Impact Survey to help determine the impact COVID-19 has had on those accessing the homeless services system, Bodendieck said.
“What we’ve discovered thus far is that nearly half of all households seeking services reported doing so because they had been impacted in some fashion by the COVID-19 crisis,” he said. “While only 26 out of 713 respondents reported that they or a member of their immediate family had contracted the virus, 133 reported they were struggling financially due to COVID related healthcare costs; 402 reported a loss of income due to COVID; 321 reported a loss of employment; and 315 reported experiencing a housing crisis due to COVID-19.”
Need for volunteers remains critical
Members of the Ozarks Alliance to End Homelessness used the annual press conference — which is held in November, National Homeless Awareness Month — to highlight the critical need for volunteers to staff the crisis cold weather shelters.
There are currently two shelters that open on nights when the overnight temperature is predicted to hit 32 degrees or colder: East Sunshine Church of Christ for men and Grace United Methodist Church for women.
Due to COVID-19 and the need for social distancing, both shelters will operate at 50 percent capacity this winter. That means 50 men can stay at East Sunshine and 15 women can go to Grace.
Both shelters need two people to spend the night. Volunteers take turns sleeping in shifts.
If enough volunteers sign up to adequately staff the two existing shelters, members of the Alliance will begin working to open mini shelters at other locations.
“My greatest plea to the community is that we continue to solicit volunteers. I’m hoping that other shelters can open up this season, as we can only house 50 men,” said Karen Mizell, shelter coordinator at East Sunshine. “Last year there were nights that over 100 men needed to be housed.”
Rhonda Galbraith, pastor at Grace United Methodist Church, echoed the plea for volunteers.
“(With COVID-19) we need to kind of overstaff for volunteers,” Galbraith said. “We never know when we might get the call that one of them can’t show up because they are not feeling well or they’ve tested positive.
“We believe we have a safe environment for volunteers,” she said. “Our spaces are large. Our numbers are low. We always empower the volunteers that you can keep your distance. You will never be put in a position where you have to be too close to someone.”
For information on volunteering, visit www.cpozarks.org/coldweather or call Amanda Stadler at 417-225-7499.
Any faith community, business or organization interested in hosting a shelter can visit www.cpozarks.org/coldweather to submit an inquiry.