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City Beat: Compassion at a Crossroads

Robberson businesses and neighbors ‘at wits’ end’
 from destructive actions of homeless population

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One Springfield City Council member would like to establish a task force to study problems related to homelessness in the northern part of the city.

Councilperson Abe McGull has been in close contact with the Robberson Neighborhood Association, and said he has seen photos of some of the damage allegedly caused by a transient population.

“I think it’s time for us to establish some sort of task force to look into the homeless situation here in Springfield that is growing out of control,” McGull said following the public comment portion of the July 26 Springfield City Council meeting.

Isreal Reel, who owns Itty&Boo’s Pipe Emporium LLC at 2109 N. Glenstone Ave., on the western border of the Robberson neighborhood, spoke to council about his worries that the homeless population spending time outside his store is creating a dangerous situation while also driving away customers.

“I’m going to have to close my doors,” he told council during the public comment section of the meeting.

His business opened in May, according to its Facebook page.

“I’ve sent Abe pictures of people sitting outside my shop shooting heroin, getting mad because I call police and then – ugh – defecating on my windows,” Reel said. “There’s been shootings; there’s been stabbings. It’s like a highway through North Glenstone going to the center.”

Reel was referring to the O’Reilly Center for Hope, located in the Robberson neighborhood at 1518 E. Dale St. at the former George Pepperdine School.

The center, which opened in September 2020, is a Community Partnership of the Ozarks Inc. project that houses several agencies available to people in poverty or homelessness situations. The center also provides computer access, laundry and shower services, mail services, and hygiene and first aid supplies, according to its website.

Three homeowners from Robberson described to council unsanitary conditions, including trash and bodily waste in alleyways, and fear of danger. One homeowner, Diana Hodges, said people are sleeping behind her house and using an area on her property as a public restroom.

“This is my home,” Hodges told council. “It was supposed to be my retirement oasis. It’s gone. I’m looking to move, and I’m having a really rough time. We need help.”

Dolly Vranka told council that she had approached them in a January 2018 meeting to ask members to vote in favor of the purchase of Pepperdine School for CPO to help people with affordable housing, homelessness, mental health problems and other needs. Neighbors were happy when council approved the purchase.

“Now, we’re seeing great problems,” Vranka said. “We’re wondering, what can you help us do to make these folks responsible for living the way they do and maybe changing their habits? We’re at our wits’ end.”

Reel told council his neighbor businesses also experience problems. He said he has spoken to people at Andy’s Frozen Custard, Fazoli’s, Stone Income Tax Service and ABC Books, and all agree: “It’s a thoroughfare of nothing but trash and violence,” he said.

Reached at her business July 27, ABC Books owner Valerie Earhart confirmed Reel’s observations.

She noted that unlike Reel’s store, her business fronts Glenstone. While Earhart has to pick up trash every day, she said the mess Reel faces is in a whole different category.

“Back where Isreal’s business is and some of his neighbors, that’s where people congregate. There’s a lot of trash, and a lot of dangerous trash,” she said. “I pick up a lot of stuff every day, but the stuff they deal with every day is different.”

Reel told council that it isn’t unusual to find multiple hypodermic needles on his property each day.

Earhart said she would love for the city to get involved. 

“We can’t do this ourselves,” she said. “We’re trying to service our customers; we’re trying to run our businesses. We’re not equipped to be social agencies.”

Council members and residents have forwarded concerns to the city manager. No course of action has yet been announced on the issue.

Councilperson Craig Hosmer said the issue seems to be getting worse instead of better. 

“As a community, we tolerate way too much,” he said. “We’re going in the wrong direction.”

Councilperson Andrew Lear agreed. 

“This is a problem that’s escalating, and it’s going to require more services,” he said. “Part of it is policing, absolutely.”

Reached at her office, Michelle Garand, CPO’s vice president of affordable housing and homeless prevention, acknowledged the seriousness of the issue for homeowners and businesses in the neighborhood.

“They have some pretty serious concerns and have a right to be upset,” she said.

Garand said CPO is working closely with the Robberson Neighborhood Association, faith organizations and the Springfield Police Department to help find solutions.

Other action items

  • Council voted to remove the security requirement for contractors applying for land disturbance permits, with only one member, Hosmer, voting against it. The security deposit is used to correct environmental problems, such as excessive runoff, caused by excavation. Hosmer repeated his concerns that city staff consulted only commercial interests, including the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce’s Growth & Development Advisory Council and the Springfield Contractors Association for input. Hosmer’s position is that broader community input is needed for city decision-making, but City Manager Jason Gage told council that if staff communicated with everybody, it would be impossible to get things done.
  • Council accepted a Pathway Home 2 grant in the amount of $3,000,545 from the U.S. Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration. According to Sally Payne, interim director of Workforce Development, the grant will provide training to 400 people who are being released from prison to Springfield and the surrounding area from Ozark, Tipton and Chillicothe correctional centers. Councilperson Richard Ollis congratulated Payne and her staff on the grant: “One of our issues, and this is going to be a continuing issue, is workforce, and so training and development of the folks that you’re aspiring to do with this grant is exceptionally important.”
  • Fire Chief David Pennington informed council of a program that would make Springfield the first city in the state to have a registered Firefighter Apprentice Program through an agreement with the Missouri Department of Labor. “We do need to draw from a bigger area and get more diverse service for sure,” Pennington said. Council will vote on the program at its Aug. 9 meeting.

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