Springfield, Clark County task force to address homelessness and pandemic impact

A joint Clark County and City of Springfield task force will look into the pandemic’s impact on residents experiencing homelessness and ways to address the issue.

The Clark County Board of Commissioners approved the creation of an emergency oversight task force to assess ways to address homelessness in the area, an issue exacerbated by the pandemic, during its meeting last week.

County commissioners said that they, as well as the City of Springfield, recognized “that families and individuals have been and continue to seek emergency housing at unprecedented numbers due in part to the impact of COVID-19,” according to the Jan. 5 resolution they passed.

“We’re seeing that as we moved into the pandemic, we were handling these types of emergencies that we weren’t equipped for,” said Clark County administrator Jennifer Hutchinson.

The governments of Springfield and Clark County government, the Clark County Combined Health District and the United Way of Clark, Champaign and Madison Counties will collaborate to identify the number of displaced people living in the county, as well as to develop a plan to back away from utilizing the county’s hotels and motels for emergency shelter.

The task force will also focus on efforts to prevent people from experiencing homelessness and building case management services for people to obtain transitional housing and then permanent housing. The group will also discuss ways to support mental health and addiction services, as well as job skills training and placement, according to resolutions passed by both the city commission and the county commission.

The county commission tasked the group with bringing recommendations to the city and county by June 30.

The Springfield commission voted to approve the task force and declare homelessness a public health crisis during its Dec. 21 meeting.

“It’s a collaborative approach to finding a solution to an issue our community is facing,” said Springfield city manager Bryan Heck.

The city and county have worked with partners such as Interfaith Hospitality Network (IHN) since the start of the pandemic to find shelter for people amid a time of congregate living restrictions. IHN, a non-profit that focuses on housing assistance, serviced more than 400 families in 2021 alone, Heck said.

The use of hotels and motels for emergency shelters, though, is a short-term solution to assisting displaced Clark Countians, Heck said, as one day the county’s hotels and motels will wish to return to its pre-pandemic business model.

Clark County Combined Health District health commissioner Charles Patterson said the task force is a part of the county’s community health improvement plan.

“So much of our health is derived from our environment and derived from those basic needs… food, clothing and shelter,” Patterson said.

The pandemic “brought to the light” the magnitude of homelessness in Clark County, Patterson said.

“We didn’t know the problem existed at the level it does,” Patterson said.

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