Survey of Springfield homeless shows many have been members of community for long time

Published: May. 18, 2023 at 8:05 PM CDT|Updated: May. 18, 2023 at 10:51 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - A recent survey of 280 homeless people in the area shows that almost a third of them have lived in Springfield for more than 25 years and that nearly 7-out-of-10 have lived in the Queen City for at least five years.

Pastor Christie Love runs The Connecting Grounds, a homeless and poverty outreach program that conducted the survey of the unsheltered in Springfield.

“We’ve lost a lot of people who have been on the streets a very long time, whether that was due to them passing away or getting into housing,” she said. “But we definitely see that the predominant number of people that live on the streets of Springfield have been here longer than ten years.

Among the survey’s findings:

- 4.7 percent have been in Springfield less than 30 days

- 10.4 percent have been in Springfield for more than a month but less than a year

- 16.5 percent have been in Springfield for 1-4 years

- 21.6 percent have been in Springfield for 5-10 years

- 17.6 percent have been in Springfield for 11-24 years

- 29.1 percent have been in Springfield for more than 25 years

From those numbers, you can see the homeless population in Springfield is not made up of transients passing through the area but of people who likely called Springfield home even before they became homeless.

“Most people don’t realize they’re just one accident and 90 days away from being there themselves,” said Chris Ebbs, now a night manager at The Connecting Grounds new shelter and former homeless person. “One accident, and you can’t go to work. Then you miss a house or car payment, and things get worse from there.”

“We’ve got a lot of people who’ve been on the streets from year-to-three years, which lines up with the numbers we’ve seen skyrocketing during COVID,” Love said. “We know that we have about 920 people who are currently street and camp sleeping in this city. We’ve got 2,731 people on our street census right now who meet HUD’s definition of homelessness. And we know that at least 500-600 of those would be very interested in some kind of housing opportunity. Here that comes with some sobriety and volunteer requirements that put job training and mentorship around people.”

That growing need to house the unsheltered is why Love recently got permission from the city to turn her church, which averaged 30 to 70 people per week, into a full-time homeless transition shelter. In the past, the church had already been used as a cold-weather shelter. Still, the organization’s three buildings in the complex along Chestnut Expressway include a garage and a family connection center where parents with foster kids go for supervised visits, which will be converted into shelter space for up to 15 people. The church services have been moved to the Brentwood Christian Church in south Springfield, and a new home will be found for the family connection center.

“Part of the survey asked them what was their biggest barrier to getting (permanent) housing,” Love said. “Over half of the respondents said their biggest barrier was having a stable, safe place to stay while they’re waiting for permanent housing.”

“We don’t always have a way to get to where we need to go, and we’re carrying around everything we own, so when you go into a job interview, you’re automatically barred from employment because you’re carrying a backpack, and you don’t look as clean as you should because you took a bath in the Walmart bathroom,” Ebbs added.

Ebbs along with another Chris, Chris Hendon, are both residents of the new church-turned-shelter, and both have overcome substance abuse problems to get there.

“This wonderful place has helped keep me sober and get a job,” Hendon said. “I’m very grateful. The program is not hard, but staying away from the people, places, and things that I used to do is hard because I still run into those people on a daily basis.”

“The Connecting Grounds loved me unconditionally for just who I am,” Ebbs said. “I was a drug addict and alcoholic, but by receiving that unconditional love, it taught me I might be worth something. So I threw myself into volunteering because they were helping me so much I wanted to give back.”

And no one appreciates having a roof over their head more than Ebbs, who had to have a leg amputated because of the frostbite he suffered while on the streets.

“I was very angry about it at times,” Ebbs admitted. “But in the long run, it slowed me down, and I met great people because of it. Sobriety could have cost me an arm and a leg, but it only cost me a leg this time.”

When asked what they want the public to know most about the unsheltered population, Ebbs and Hendon mentioned that too many people think the homeless are all drug addicts or criminals.

“They’re not all bad,” Ebbs said. “They’re all lumped together, and the perception is based on the 10 percent that does horrible things. The other 90 percent are just trying to survive. Where am I going to eat today? Where am I going to lay down? They don’t have time to worry about where they’re going to shower or go put in a job application. They just need to survive right now.”

“I would have to say that being homeless is a full-time job,” Hendon said. “People don’t know what it’s like until they go through it, and there’s nothing that can prepare you for it. I had never been homeless before in my life, and when it happened, I had homeless people telling me what to do, where to go for food, and trying to help me out any way they could. Now I’m not on the streets, sober and living my life.”

Love knows so many more people want that same opportunity.

“For us, we’re adding about 65-70 new names a month,” she said. “We’ve got to have the bed space to allow people to have that chance to have that chance.”

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