COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)
Homelessness affects more than half a million people nationwide, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, and Mid-Missouri is no exception.
According to the 2022 Point in Time Count, 1,571 individuals in Missouri were experiencing homelessness. One-third of those individuals are considered "unsheltered." That means those individuals are living on the streets, in parks, vehicles or other places not designed for people to take shelter.
Most of Mid-Missouri is located within Region 5 within the state. This region include Boone, Cole, Gasconade and Phelps counties. The 2022 Point in Time Count indicates 533 people in Region 5 are experiencing homelessness. Out of those 533 people, 64 are classified as veterans, 180 have a mental illness and 124 people are children.
Data from the Boone County Health Department indicates there are 210 people who are homeless in Boone County. Data from 2008-23 shows homelessness has been increasing in the county.
The Voluntary Action Center -- a nonprofit based out of Columbia that aims to provide basic needs to residents -- helps residents of the county who have an income at, or below, 200% of the federal poverty guidelines.
"We've seen an increase in homeless numbers right along with that increase in population," VAC Director Ed Stansberry said.
Homelessness has many causes. It can include substance abuse, being incarcerated, losing a job, an unexpected tragedy or rising housing costs.
"We have cases of folks that have a major medical event that impacts their finances and causes them to lose their home," Stansberry said. "[Or] they have a marital status change that they're suddenly without a home. There a multiple phases of homeless in the community."
According to Love Columbia, -- a nonprofit in Columbia that includes services, such a housing assistance -- says one-in-five Columbia residents live in poverty. The National Alliance to End Homelessness states poverty leading factor to homelessness.
"Year to date, this year is our highest numbers so far," Love Columbia Program Director Conrad Hake said. "We've had over 3,700 requests for assistance."
Another organization aimed at helping individuals experiencing homelessness in Columbia is Turning Point.
Lifelong Columbia resident Chris Eubanks said he has been homeless for the past two years and uses Turning Point, regularly.
"They do it all. They literally help with everything," Eubanks said of Turning Point. "From everything from food to showers to just needing to stay warm."
The organization is based out of the Wilkes Boulevard United Methodist Church in Columbia and offers services during the day, including:
- Providing a mailing address
- Document storage
- Shower and laundry facilities
- Sock exchange
- Personal belonging storage
- Internet and telephone access
- Employment and housing information
- Trained staff to move folks out of homelessness
- Central location to meet with caseworkers, tutors, life coaches and mentors
- Prayer and Bible study
Eubanks said when he wakes up, he goes to Turning Point to take a shower and grab food. At one point, he lived in homeless camps in Columbia for around three or four months.
"I was going in-and-out of being locked up and I got tired of the camp life," Eubanks said. "It's not safe out there. You go from having your stuff taken to having your tent even burned down just from random people."
But he went on to say that just because a person's homeless, doesn't mean they're a danger to society or a threat. Eubanks said after he experienced the sudden deaths of two of his friends at the camps, he knew it was time to get out.
"It was absolutely terrible," Eubanks said. "I don't think I would ever do it again. It's nothing like Survivor or anything like that."
Eubanks said one of those friends was Kaylen Ann Schmit, 24. Police say Schmit was thrown off of the Highway 63 bridge near Conley Road in October 2022 by Jessie R. Williams. Williams was charged with first-degree murder in relation to her death. His next court date is set for Dec. 15.
"I can't do this like, I'm not going to go out like that," Eubanks said. "I had to turn my life around...basically I'm just slowing getting back on my feet."
Eubanks said he wants to work toward getting his license back and is trying to sign up for food stamps. In a year, he hopes to have a job lined up in either a restaurant or in landscaping.
Other resources around the Mid-Missouri area can be found on Love Columbia's website.
Across Mid-Missouri, there are a handful of organizations aimed at helping people get back on their feet. That includes the Jefferson City Salvation Army.
Jefferson City Salvation Army Center of Hope Director Brian Vogeler told ABC 17 News he believes there are more than 100 people in the area experiencing homelessness.
"A lot of families I've been seeing have been basically priced out of their home," Brian Vogeler said.
Vogeler said when the City of Columbia cleared out some homeless camps in the spring, they saw people move to Jefferson City.
"When they did that, we saw a big influx of singles come down here," Vogeler said.
Within the past six months, the Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services hired a senior planner to focus on addressing homelessness. Kari Utterback said her position deals with a variety of organizations, including the Boone County Coalition to End Homelessness and the Balance of State Continuum of Care.
"I get to do a lot of different things that are all supportive of folks experiencing homelessness," Utterback said. "In 2022, we saw a huge spike in our homeless population, so that's something we are working through now."
Utterback said a lot of federal COVID-19 funding has ended which has been another challenge for many programs.
"I know we are in need of a 24/7, 365 drop in day center," Utterback said. "We still don't have access to that."
The Voluntary Action Center is in the process of building its Opportunity Campus. The Opportunity Campus will be a low-barrier shelter and campus to help people have a temporary place to call home while they get back on their feet.
The 23,600-square-foot shelter will be built at Bowling Street and Business Loop 70 East and operated by the VAC. The Columbia City Council approved zoning changes for the project in October 2022.
Some services available will include:
- Being open year-round
- Being open at all times
- A drop-in center
- Case management
- Employment assistance
- A physical mailing address
- A medical clinic
- Mailing services
- Transportation services
- Laundry facilities
- Secure storage
- Kennel facilities
- A computer lab
The VAC estimates the Opportunity Campus will be able to help 10,000 people each year.
"Regardless of a person's mental health issues, physical health issues, substance abuse history, eviction history, incarceration history, we [want to] move them into housing as quickly and efficiently as we possibly can," Stansberry said. "The research shows that recovery from any of those issues they may have happens better and quicker if they're launching that recovery from a place called home."
Stansberry expects to break ground on the Opportunity Campus by the end of November and estimates it will take between 10-18 months for construction.