Springfield nonprofits work with city, county to fight homelessness

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

During recent polar vortex, more than 20 people received help

A Springfield-based nonprofit is working with Clark County organizations to address the immediate and long-term needs of the city during an uptick in people experiencing homelessness that came during the pandemic.

The Nehemiah Foundation has been working with Springfield and Clark County’s homelessness task force to build a network of Springfield churches and other organizations for crisis response.

Aaron Roy, who helps coordinate emergency shelter spaces, street outreach and more for the nonprofit, said the network’s efforts recently helped more than 20 people stay warm during the polar vortex that plummeted temperatures to below zero degrees during the Christmas holiday last year.

The Nehemiah Foundation partnered with the Salvation Army during the period of dangerous cold to provide an emergency shelter space for people who lacked shelter or people who had no heat in their homes, Roy said. Local restaurants also provided food for people staying in the shelter spaces.

“It was a hard but amazing time where we got to really spend time with our unsheltered neighbors and hear their stories, and laugh, and listen to music,” Roy said.

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Aside from the Salvation Army, the nonprofit has partnered with High Street Nazarene church, Sheltered Inc. and the city of Springfield for the emergency shelter space project.

The Nehemiah Foundation is also beginning work to make agreements with local churches to use their properties as spaces for shelter and secondary housing.

Sheltered Inc. has played a pivotal role in the county and city’s response to homelessness, Roy said.

In November, the Nehemiah Foundation helped Sheltered Inc. and city and county partners to move more than 20 people who were living in an encampment located near Springfield’s soup kitchen to other shelter options, a move organizations made to get people into sheltered spaces before the winter cold rolled in.

People living at the encampment, referred to by many as “Tent City,” were placed into non-congregate shelters and connected to case workers, Roy said.

Part of the Nehemiah Foundation’s work toward helping unsheltered people is its Street Outreach program, where Roy and others find places where unsheltered people are congregating and connect with them to hear about their needs and link them to resources.

Roy said a stigma often exists against unsheltered people.

“We believe every person we encounter needs to be respected, has dignity and power and worth,” Roy said. “We need to build trust, and part of that is building a consistent presence. Hearing their stories, meeting their needs.”

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Roy noted, too, that the community has seen a rise in families experiencing housing obstacles.

Sheltered Inc. reported that in 2021, it provided emergency shelter to more than 1,700 people, which included more than 600 children.

Looking ahead, Roy said city and county partners along with the Nehemiah Foundation will be working to bring the Villager Inn online in its second life as a shelter.

The city purchased the former Inn through $1.7 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds last year. It will add more than 80 shelter units to the area.

The task force and its partners are working to address other needs people who are experiencing homelessness may also be facing, such as food security and job services.

“It’s exciting to be a part of one small part of a team of people doing this,” he said.

The city-county homelessness task force – which consists of agencies and organizations geared toward housing, employment, mental health and more – was started months back to gather more information about how many people locally lack stable housing and what long-term solutions can be worked toward addressing the boom in homelessness.

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