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City Council sent plan for federal homeless funds

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Springfield City Council will hear first reading and public comments at its meeting Monday on a plan to use $3.8 million in federal funds to help homeless people. 

The comment period for Springfield’s Home-American Rescue Plan allocation is open through 5 p.m. June 23, though the Monday meeting represents the only chance to comment publicly on the plan before City Council. 

Council will vote on how the city uses its Home-ARP allocation at its meeting June 27. 

Springfield’s Home Investment Partnership Grant is funded by the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act, signed into federal law March 2021. 

Congress has stipulated $5 billion of these funds are to be used for homeless prevention through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and city officials say this is where Springfield intends to use its grant. 

According to Bob Jones, grants administrator with the city’s planning department, the plan presented to council calls for $2.2 million toward acquisition and development of non-congregate shelters – that is, shelters with individual bedrooms for use by families and people with special needs. 

The federal funds will cover half the cost of a shelter containing 13 units, according to Jones. 

The plan also calls for $1 million to develop affordable rental housing, with another $400,000 allocated for supportive services, such as counseling and case management. 

The plan allows $190,000, or 5% of the grant, for administrative and planning costs, less than the 15% permitted by HUD. 

To arrive at the plan, the city worked with the Ozarks Alliance to End Homelessness. HUD requires a continuum of care organization for areas that receive its funds, and that is the alliance, which covers Springfield and Greene, Christian and Webster counties. The Community Partnership of the Ozarks is its lead agency. 

Adam Bodendieck, director of homeless services for CPO, said the city prioritized the use of funds based on feedback from service agencies, surveys and focus groups. 

“We have a pretty severe shortage in family shelters, and so being able to expand that, everyone has said this would be a very worthwhile use of funds,” Bodendieck said. 

Christie Love, pastor for The Connecting Grounds, a church that serves the homeless community, said the proposed 13-unit noncongregant shelter is a start, but the city needs to provide lots of low-barrier shelters. She said the city has a serious sheltering crisis. 

“We need family shelters, youth shelters, couples' shelters, pet-friendly shelters,” she said. “We’ve got several crisis cold-weather shelters that will turn young adults away if they’re not 18 yet. Even Safe to Sleep won’t take a female if she has a dog, which she may use for protection throughout the day.” 

More shelter space for people with disabilities also is a need, she said, noting some shelters won’t accept a person who can’t climb to the top of a bunk. 

“We’ve got to find ways to make sheltering accessible to more people,” she said, noting other cities have organized campgrounds as a creative solution.  

“We’ve got to think of some outside-of-the-box methods like that. What does it look like to open several year-round shelters in several parts of the city?” 

Jones said in consultations with agencies, the city identified two bottlenecks, one with having sufficient shelter to get people off the street and the other with helping to move people into affordable housing. The funding plan addresses both bottlenecks, he said. 

Jones said a person who is placed in a shelter and then connected with agencies and support, job assistance, medical care and other needs is then in a position to become more self-supporting to secure affordable rentals before eventually graduating into market-rate rentals. 

There is little shelter space to take someone off the street, Jones said, but there are also very few available rentals of any type in the city. 

“Those two bottlenecks are flagged as one and two,” he said of the priorities that went into the Home-ARP plan. “That’s the main way we divided up the money.” 

Jones said he is optimistic the city plan will be approved by HUD and soon be put into action. Some agencies have been contacted to provide the noncongregant shelter, he said, adding one already has drawings by architects and is ready to go. 

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