The Connecting Grounds Church has an outreach center that has resources for the homeless and families in need. A man, identified as Michael Holland, spends the night in January. (Photo by Dean Curtis)

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Preliminary numbers from the annual homeless count found 441 individuals accessed shelters and transitional housing programs in this community on the night of Feb. 23, 2022. That number is down from the 517 who were accessing shelters and transitional housing programs during last year’s count.

Those numbers exclude what advocates say is a large number of people sleeping on the streets, camping, staying in a rehabilitation facility or staying the night with a friend or family member.

The final point-in-time count report will be released later this year. But the preliminary stats were presented by Kaitlyn Poepsel with the Institute for Community Alliances during the Ozarks Alliance to End Homelessness board meeting earlier this month.

The count is a yearly census of people experiencing homelessness required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). It is used to collect and preserve historical data on homelessness across the United States and is performed once per year.

Locally, this year’s point-in-time count was different from previous years in that a count of unsheltered people in camps and on the streets did not happen.

Michelle Garand, with the Ozarks Alliance to End Homelessness, explained this was because of the spike in COVID-19 at the time, a reduction in volunteer support, and being too short-staffed as an Alliance team.

She said Alliance staff confirmed with HUD that since an unsheltered count was conducted in 2021, one was not required this year. This year’s data will not impact HUD scoring for this community. 

The sheltered count conducted in February included those individuals who spent the night at the Crisis Cold Weather sites. These shelter sites open up in Springfield on nights when the temperature is forecasted to dip below freezing.

It also included those in emergency shelters, transitional housing and safe-haven-type shelters within the local continuum of care (Greene, Christian and Webster counties), as well as those using vouchers to be sheltered in hotel rooms. 

Some key findings Poepsel pointed out include:

  • The 441 persons who were experiencing homelessness and accessing shelters on the night of February 23 consisted of people from 325 households. 
  • Those 325 households include 274 adult-only households, 39 adults with children households (124 individuals), and 12 children-only households (12 individuals). 
  • While there were 63 fewer people accessing shelters this year compared to last year, the number of chronically homeless individuals seeking shelter increased from 104 in 2021 to 147 this year. 
  • The number of unaccompanied youth households accessing shelters and transitional housing increased from 16 in 2021 to 32 this year. 

Actual homeless likely 2-3 times higher

The Connecting Grounds, a church that has been serving Springfield’s unsheltered homeless community since 2018, presented information to city council last month that indicated the number of homeless people in this community is much higher than what the point-in-time count encompasses. 

Pastor Christie Love said the numbers come from what she calls the “street census,” a collaboration among Springfield’s homeless outreach organizations that attempts to count Springfield’s homeless population on a weekly basis.  

The census accounts for people staying in shelters — as this year’s count does — but also those sleeping on the streets, camping, staying in a hotel, staying in a rehabilitation facility or staying the night with a friend or family member.

As of 12:05 a.m. on March 28, the street census was 1,139 people. People are added to the list as they access services, and go off the list if they get into housing, move away from Springfield or die.

“Unfortunately, I take more people off the list because they move or they pass away than they get into housing right now, and that’s a really hard reality of our community,” Love said at that presentation. “But we are able to also, in live time, tell where they stay.”

Love believes the actual number of unsheltered persons in Springfield is much higher that the street census indicates because many people are sleeping in their vehicles undetected or are doubled up, meaning they are staying with friends and family.

Jackie Rehwald

Jackie Rehwald is a reporter at the Springfield Daily Citizen. She covers public safety, the courts, homelessness, domestic violence and other social issues. Her office line is 417-837-3659. More by Jackie Rehwald