Area seniors, youth struggling to find, maintain permanent, secure housing – Jefferson City News Tribune

200669894 20220204 RoomattheInn EW 016 NT t800 Ethan Weston/News Tribune Aaron Washburn puts bedding on a cot on Friday, Feb. 4, 2022 at the Jefferson City Room at the Inn warming center inside Catholic Charities.

Shortly after the federal evictions moratorium ordered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ended in late August, the Salvation Army Center of Hope began receiving requests for rooms — from all across the country.

If communities in other parts of the country had shelters, they were filled.

Desperate callers as far away as Florida reached out looking for temporary shelter.

As more people found themselves without a place to stay, pressure on local organizations began building and has intensified in the new year, Center of Hope director Brian Vogeler said.

Demand for shelter was down during the past two years during the pandemic, Vogeler said. That was probably because people couldn’t be evicted.

“Then the eviction stay ended,” he said. “And all of a sudden, now, we’ve seen this huge spike in homeless.”

People of all ages began seeking aid from local organizations as their housing situations became increasingly more unstable.

“Actually, seniors have been the biggest,” he said. “I think we’ve had four from the local senior housing unit. And the problem is … they’re seniors — they have the clothes on their back. And that’s what they could carry.”

Along with seniors, many young people in the area have struggled to find and maintain permanent, secure housing.

The HALO Foundation, a youth housing and development organization with locations in Jefferson City, has worked closely with the surrounding school districts to understand the need for housing among young people and students.

“When we actually started offering residential and housing services in Jefferson City years ago, it started from conversations with the Jefferson City Public Schools,” said Carly Schultze, chief program officer of HALO. “At that point … the school district had identified over 100 — I think it was like 130 kids.”

Housing insecurity and homelessness for all ages are extremely hard to quantify as living situations can constantly change.

“A lot of these numbers that we see from Point in Time, which is such a great initiative … faces that challenge of a teenager or young adult having to identify that they are experiencing homelessness,” Schultze said.

The annual Point in Time Count, a requirement of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), is an attempt to measure levels of homelessness across the country.

Vogeler will lead Cole County’s 2022 count Wednesday and Thursday.

Point in Time count

As the COVID-19 omicron variant ran rampant through communities, HUD allowed a delay in this year’s count.

The department also allowed communities to cancel unsheltered counts in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but still required reports of sheltered individuals staying in public and private housing institutions.

Less than two weeks ago, the agency released its 2021 report that noted homelessness across the nation appeared to decrease about 8 percent.

“Last year, we just did a point in time count with just the shelter,” Vogeler said. “This year, we’re actually going to be able to go out and do it.”

When conducting the count, Vogeler said, they will have individuals fill out a survey and they will also be passing out care packages with a blanket, socks and personal hygiene items.

“There’s one (survey) for families, there’s one for youth, which a youth is considered 24 and under, and then there’s a single adult,” he said. “We don’t ask their full name, we just ask (for) initials, and then the last few letters of their last name.

“When all the surveys are done, I’ll bring them here, and I’ll go through them all and make sure I don’t have any duplicates.”

Anyone staying overnight at the Center of Hope, or goes into the center for meals on the day of the count, will also be surveyed, Vogeler added.

“That’s the biggest thing we want to figure out is: Where did you sleep last night?” he said. “The whole reason we do this is because we want to get the most accurate picture we can of our homeless population.”

“That way we can kind of gauge those funds and get those appropriate funds that we need to help these individuals out.”

Vogeler estimated 322 people came through the shelter last year.

COVID-19 relief

In the report on 2021, HUD officials said homelessness in America remains an “urgent crisis,” but the data indicates federal COVID-19 relief had positive effects on sheltered homelessness.

Continuing to leverage American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) resources and the federal House America initiative will accelerate progress toward ending the crisis, officials said.

A COVID-19 relief grant should help Transformational Housing of Jefferson City get started on its next project at 101 Jackson St., said the Rev. Karen Taylor, of First United Methodist Church.

Transformational Housing of Jefferson City has completed construction of its first apartment building, at 203 Cherry St. Organizers held an open house for the venue Saturday.

Jefferson City faith leaders have collaborated on the effort to create an apartment building that will help address needs of folks facing poverty.

Modeled after other programs, the organization requires families who receive apartments in the structure to enroll in specific programs intended to help them overcome poverty.

Transformational housing is provided for a limited time, during which, families are coached to set goals, create stability and save resources needed to move into permanent housing.

Taylor, a Transformational Housing board member, said the Salvation Army, Central Missouri Community Action, Common Ground Community Building, HALO, Rape and Abuse Crisis Service and Jefferson City Schools have referred families to apply for housing in the building.

Coaches are coming from a number of churches in the area — Landmark, First United Methodist, First Baptist, First Christian and Living Hope.

“We understand that one of our important goals is ending homelessness in Jefferson City,” Taylor said. “We can’t do that by ourselves. They are complex issues that need lots of issues addressed.”

Getting people into a program that sets them up for success is outstanding, said Susan Cook-Williams, executive director of River City Habitat for Humanity.

Cook-Williams pointed out last week 70 families signed up for informational sessions focused on filling out applications for the Jefferson City Habitat for Humanity program. Normally, 50 or fewer show interest. The housing ministry allows families to put “sweat equity” into their home and sells them the home through affordable mortgages.

The nonprofit will be accepting applications until Friday for four homes it intends to build over the next fiscal year.

The homes are to be built at 803 and 902 Montana streets, 1401 W. Main St., and 1206 E. High St. (The home in the 900 block of Montana Street is a rebuild.)

Federal funding is helping to get people into housing, said Tina Mollenkamp, Common Ground Community Building executive director. Common Ground helps people achieve sustainable freedom from poverty through the development of a strong network of partners and community-based services. The organization offers homelessness prevention programs, rapid re-housing and temporary financial assistance.

Administrators worked with the Jefferson City Housing Authority in 2021 to get people into public housing, Mollenkamp said. Unfortunately, some people trying to get into Section 8 housing needed more help than the $100-$200 the nonprofit was capable of providing. A United Way of Central Missouri grant helped, she added.

The organization also collaborated with Central Missouri Community Action (CMCA) to acquire federal funding. It received a $5,000 grant first, then it received a $20,000 grant to help with housing.

“I heard a high number of people were going to be evicted right before Christmas,” Mollenkamp said. “We’ve been trying to work hard to help people file for the SAFHR money to keep people from being evicted.”

The SAFHR (State Assistance for Housing Relief) program provides rent and utility assistance for eligible Missouri residents affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Common Ground, Catholic Charities, CMCA and others have hosted events to help people begin filling out SAFHR forms. Once they start filling out the forms, the eviction process is put on hold.

Authors of HUD’s report on 2021 said the drop in homelessness among veterans — and efforts to keep veterans in stable housing — encourages them.

The Veterans Administration (VA) is working with federal, local and nonprofit partners to implement new, and support existing evidence-based programs and policies, to permanently house or rapidly re-house veterans experiencing or at-risk of homelessness, the report stated, “because every veteran has earned and deserves a safe place to call home.”

The pandemic challenged service-providers for homeless populations, the report states.

“To promote the safety of people staying in shelter programs, most emergency shelters reduced occupancy to respond to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations concerning COVID-19.

In some cases, reduced occupancy was reported through the Housing Inventory Count, but in other communities it was not, the report stated.

“Estimates of the number of people experiencing sheltered homelessness at a point in time in 2021 should be viewed with caution, as the number could be artificially depressed compared with non-pandemic times, reflecting reduced occupancy in some communities or safety concerns regarding staying in shelters,” the report found.

The annual one-night counts are usually conducted during the last 10 days of January. Extensions are approved on a case-by-case basis including during the surge of the COVID-19 omicron variant.

The Point in Time counts of homelessness and the housing inventory information are based on data from January 2021 and thus do not reflect the full impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the prevalence of homelessness or the health and economic status of people experiencing homelessness, according to the report.

photo Ethan Weston/News Tribune Aaron Washburn carries a cot across the room on Friday, Feb. 4, 2022 at the Jefferson City Room at the Inn warming center inside Catholic Charities.

photo Ethan Weston/News Tribune Stefani Thompson puts a blanket on a cot on Friday, Feb. 4, 2022 at the Jefferson City Room at the Inn warming center inside Catholic Charities. This is the charity’s first week in operation at the Catholic Charities location.

photo Ethan Weston/News Tribune Aaron and Lisa Washburn tuck in a blanket on Friday, Feb. 4, 2022 at the Jefferson City Room at the Inn warming center inside Catholic Charities. “We came to a meeting like three weeks ago when they were rolling stuff out,” Aaron Washburn said. “We came to the training and this is our first night.”

Findings from the 2021 Point in Time count. PAGE A3

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