Like many young people who age out of foster care, Mirenda Barrows spent many of her early adult years homeless.
Barrows was left disabled after being struck by a truck in 2017. She now lives at Eden Village, the tiny home community for chronically disabled homeless people.
But just because she is housed doesn’t mean Barrows is done with her homeless friends — far from it. She volunteers regularly at the Connecting Grounds Outreach Center.
She was recently tapped to serve on the NAACP’s new Economic Justice Task Force.
As a task force member, Barrows hopes to improve the community’s understanding of the unsheltered homeless and to see her unsheltered friends treated better. Barrows gets frustrated when people complain about seeing homeless people or camps.
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“There’s no cold weather shelter,” she said. “There’s not a lot of options for them.”
Barrow wants to focus on changes in the way that homeless people are released from hospitals.
“I had a friend that was in the beginning stages of frostbite,” she said. “They pretty much threw a couple of blankets on him and an hour or two later, put him back on the street. That’s how he got frostbite in the first place. It’s not a sustainable long-term solution.”
Pastor Jenn Simmons with National Avenue Christian Church was also selected to serve on the task force, which held its first meeting last week via Zoom.
“What I find to be the most hopeful is the energy, the passion that many people are finding,” Simmons said. “There are lots of different voices, different perspectives that can lean into this and widen the conversation.”
The task force is a yearlong collaborative effort between the NAACP’s Religious Affairs Committee, Housing Committee, and the Women in the NAACP committee.
Along with Barrows and Simms, the task force is made up of faith leaders, community advocates, medical professionals, people who were once homeless and volunteers who are working directly with members of the community who are impacted by poverty.
Connecting Grounds Pastor Christie Love, who serves as the NAACP’s Religious Affairs co-chair, said the group purposely selected individuals who have lived experience with poverty and homelessness as well as people who are actively helping those who are struggling.
“It’s not people whose jobs depends on grants. It’s not people who currently set policy,” Love said. “If we are going to create positive, long-lasting change that is going to break cycles of homelessness and poverty, we have to involve people who poverty and homelessness is part of their lived experience.”
Brentwood Christian Church Rev. Phil Snider is also serving on the task force.
Snider said he appreciates that the task force is including people who have experienced homelessness, as well as those who are directly serving the population every day.
“I’m someone who has longtime been a part of a progressive faith community in Springfield that emphasized a lot of reaching out and such,” Snider said. “But oftentimes I’ve done that from a distance without really knowing any unsheltered friends or neighbors.”
“Those experiences and interactions with our unsheltered friends are really transformative,” he said. “I’m really glad (Pastor Love) has put together a group of people that will really help us understand from an experiential standpoint, not just a theoretical or ideological standpoint.”
The group will meet regularly to advance the following 11 issues through conversation, advocacy, and efforts to bring about positive and needed change in our community:
- The immediate impact of COVID-19 on the unsheltered — especially in cold weather;
- Addressing the gaps in current systems and policies toward the unsheltered members of our community;
- The need for an additional day shelter in our community;
- Working to decriminalize homelessness and re-establishing Homeless Court in our community;
- Discussions with local medical care centers about discharge policies and public health practices;
- The creation of crisis shelters for families, children, and teens;
- Springfield’s increasing poverty rate, which is double the national average;
- The lack of safe, affordable housing in our community;
- The need for expanded mental health and addiction resources for those in poverty and with limited medical coverage;
- Addressing the heightened vulnerability of women in poverty, domestic violence situations, and homelessness;
- Raising public awareness and providing education about the current realities of poverty and homelessness in our community.
Love said the task force recognizes they don’t “have any policy-making power whatsoever.”
“We have not been granted a pot of money to figure out how to spend,” she said. “We have not been given any invitation to speak to the city or anything like that. Really what this is is an effort for us to come together and raise outside perspective questions, to start community-based conversations, and to just challenge the heart and the character of our community. We have to be a city that is better than what our current reality is.”
Task force members include:
- Christie Love: The Connecting Grounds, Religious Affairs Co-Chair NAACP
- Tracey Wolff: UMC Field Ministry, Religious Affairs Co-Chair NAACP
- Isabelle Walker: Member, National Association of REALTORS, Housing Chair NAACP
- Kaijuanda Sutton: Community Advocate, Women in NAACP Chair
- Ashley Quinn: National Avenue Community Church
- Jenn Simmons: National Avenue Community Church
- Ben Stringer: The Venues
- Phil Snider: Brentwood Christian Church
- Emily Bowen Marler: Brentwood Christian Church
- Katie Kring: Springfield Street Choir
- Larry Flenoid: Real Love, Real Change
- Leonard B. Horton: Senior instructor of journalism, Missouri State University, member of the National Association of REALTORS
- Paul Sartin: Lived experience with homelessness
- John Reier: Lived experience with homelessness
- Mirenda Barrows: Lived experience with homelessness
- Andrea Natal: The Connecting Grounds
- Katrin Scott: The Connecting Grounds
- Annie Busch: Retired executive director of the Springfield-Greene County Library and community advocate
- Chris Rice: Veterans Coming Home Center
- Katie Kepley: Veterans Coming Home Center
- Pat Johnson: Retired nurse and homeless advocate
Members of the task force have chosen two to three of the “11 issues” to focus on, Love said. The task force will meet once a month, but those 11 different workgroups will meet continuously.
“We as a task force really believe that the success of a city should be defined by it’s most vulnerable members, not its most successful,” Love said. “We are going to be really committed to digging into some hard issues and talking to people and looking at other practices from other cities.”
“We can think outside the box to serve our most immediate COVID-related cold weather shelter crisis, but also long-term things as well,” she continued. “We hope the city and others will engage in the conversations with us.”