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Safe to Sleep gets 2nd chance at funding

ARPA committee recommends $1.1 million for shelter

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When the city of Springfield offered funding for emergency shelters for homeless people, three agencies applied, but only two – The Salvation Army and Women’s Medical Respite – were recommended by city staff for $1.9 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding at the Jan. 8 meeting of City Council.

After an objection raised by the third agency’s CEO, a quickly assembled meeting Jan. 11 of the Council ARPA Review Committee found $1.1 million in undesignated funding for the third applicant, Council of Churches of the Ozarks Inc., which is seeking a permanent home for its Safe to Sleep shelter for women.

The two previously recommended allocations are up for a vote at council’s Jan. 22 meeting. The new recommendation to fund the Council of Churches proposal will have its public hearing and vote at council’s two February meetings.

Council presentation
Council heard a recommendation from city staff at its Jan. 8 meeting to award $1.83 million in ARPA funds to The Salvation Army in Springfield to build a new Harbor House facility and nearly double its capacity to 100 beds, according to the staff report.

Additionally, an award of $29,000 to Women’s Medical Respite would cover expenses related to its newly purchased five-bedroom house, which would increase its capacity to eight beds from five.

The Council of Churches project, which would have shifted 50 existing beds to a new facility without adding any capacity, did not score high enough on the rubric established for the grant to be recommended for funding by staff reviewers, according to City Grants Administrator Bob Jones.

Jones said the city allocated $7 million of its $40 million Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds to projects related to housing and the homeless. Council allocated up to $1.9 million for the development of shelters for homeless people. The city’s Department of Planning and Development issued a request for proposals for homeless emergency shelter grants for agencies to acquire, construct, renovate or rehabilitate buildings to shelter people who are homeless. Three agencies responded with proposals.

Jones said the proposals were evaluated by a five-member staff committee who used a ranking sheet. Numerical scores were based on evidence of experience with shelter operations, capacity, experience with federal grant funding, a cumulative increase in shelter beds, project readiness and other factors, for a total of 10 categories. The Salvation Army proposal received a score of 450, with the Women’s Medical Respite scoring 400 and Council of Churches’ proposal scoring 350.

The committee determined a large part of the $144,000 Women’s Medical Respite request was ineligible because it was to be used to pay a current debt on their facility.

Jones said Council of Churches’ application had some deficiencies. Specifically, the number of shelter beds would not be increased with the move, and he said site control was a factor. The application included an unsigned right of first refusal document for a property, but a firm agreement on a purchase was not in the packet.

The new shelter would be located within walking distance of the Council of Churches of the Ozarks headquarters, located at 3055 E. Division St.

Reconsideration requested
Jaimie Trussell, Council of Churches’ CEO, stepped to the podium at the Jan. 8 meeting to object to the lack of funding for Safe to Sleep.

Despite its name, the Council of Churches of the Ozarks receives most of its funding not from churches but from agency grants.

“We have a track record of success with the administration, the implementation and the execution of millions of dollars each year from the federal government, and I think that track record should be very much considered when you consider how to invest these funds,” she said. “Past behavior is a great predictor of future performance.”

As an example, she noted Council of Churches is housed in a 60,000-square-foot facility that was funded, purchased, renovated and opened within 18 months, cutting the ribbon in May 2023.

“It was an $8.6 million project. We owe $400,000 on the building,” she said.

Trussell said Council of Churches has hosted Safe to Sleep for 12 years, the area’s only emergency women’s shelter, open 365 days per year. The facility has never been full, she said, but the average number of guests is 30.

“Our women find at the end of the day, the best place to sleep for them is a gymnasium loaned to us by a partner church,” she said. “If the leadership of that church should change – if the neighborhood should cease to tolerate dozens of unsheltered guests in their neighborhood – and certainly, if the church needs their gym, we are in danger of losing 50 beds.”

She added that the project up for consideration received $1.9 million in funding from Missouri’s Department of Economic Development.

“I was surprised … to learn that our city did not have a similar confidence,” she said.

She added that property acquisition is part of an ongoing negotiation, but the issue can be remedied within months.

“If the city is interested in building more shelter beds, wonderful. I think we need more shelter space,” she said. “But I will tell you, there is no number of shelter beds that we could construct in the city of Springfield that would solve our unsheltered problems. The problem is much bigger than that.”

Trussell said the chances of women in the Safe to Sleep shelter getting out of homelessness is about 1 in 10.

“Without Safe to Sleep, what will the chance be?” she said.

Committee approval
Council’s ARPA committee, headed by Councilmember Matthew Simpson, voted to provide the entire $1.1 million requested for Safe to Sleep through undesignated ARPA funds.

Councilmember Heather Hardinger, who has volunteered for Safe to Sleep, noted there are stipulations in the service’s current location.

“In addition to the risk of not having space at all and not having a shelter primarily for women, no questions asked, the women have to wait until the part of the church that’s being used by other folks are completely out of there,” she said.

She added that having a dedicated space for Safe to Sleep makes a lot of sense.

“This is a service that saves lives,” she said.

Callie Carroll, who noted she had served on the Council of Churches board, said the proposed location is very close to its new headquarters, making it a one-stop shop.

“I think it’s a great thing for Springfield, obviously,” she said. “If we have the money, I think it’s a great project to fund.”

David Holtmann, city finance director, told the committee that the unallocated balance of ARPA funds is $2.57 million.

City Manager Jason Gage said that amount was set aside on the possibility of public health needs.

“At this point, we’re pretty much past the public health need aspect,” he said.

In an interview after the committee meeting, Trussell expressed her appreciation for the committee’s vote allowing an additional allocation.

“We’re delighted to work with City Council to find a way to bring this important project to fruition,” she said. “It is the first step toward a powerful solution for women experiencing emergency homelessness. Should we be approved for funding, the real work begins.”

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