Concern for the homeless in the Sedalia and Pettis County area brought 62 people to the offices of the Pettis County Community Partnership the evening of Jan. 27 for the annual Homeless Count sponsored by the Missouri Governor’s Committee to End Homelessness.
PCCP Director of Housing Roxanna Parker gave the group a training seminar and helped divide them into 17 teams. Last year only seven teams participated.
Parker said this year’s homeless count numbers are still being tabulated and would not be available until today, but she was pleased with the number of people who volunteered.
“I think it went very well,” she said by phone Saturday. “We had a good turn out from all our agencies and from the community. I was very pleased with the all the volunteers and the community support.”
Participants this year were of all ages, with some being concerned citizens, some local agency members, and some who were previously homeless.
Attending the event for the first time this year was a woman who had spent time homeless in 2015. She emphasized that having a support system is important to breaking the cycle of homelessness. Support saved her.
Tabitha’s journey began last year while she was living with her brother in Sedalia. Her mother had died the previous year and then her brother was sentenced to prison. Tabitha, who is in her 30s, was staying with people who knew her brother. She became homeless after an argument.
“I left one night because we weren’t getting along, and they sent me a message on Facebook and told me I wasn’t allowed to come back,” she said. “I thought it was the end of the world.”
Tabitha, who previously had a methamphetamine addiction spanning years, was clean for only a week when she became homeless.
“It just all hit me, but I didn’t go get high,” she said.
The first night out, she was able to stay with someone. The following morning she approached Heartland Recovery Resource Center for help.
“They got me in the homeless shelter in Jeff City,” Tabitha added. ” They spent all day working on it and finally that’s where I went. I stayed there a month. I learned a lot. It’s a great community there.”
Heartland couldn’t find any local agencies to house Tabitha, so they ended up contacting the Salvation Army Shelter in Jefferson City.
When she returned to Sedalia she found a place to live with her boyfriend. She now volunteers at Heartland.
“I’m working on my GED, and looking for work …,” she said.
Tabitha now has goals and plans one day to go into nursing. Another goal for Tabitha is to regain custody of her two children.
Her journey into homelessness has provided wisdom for others.
“I learned that a lot of homeless people, they have either alcohol problems or drug problems or they don’t have anybody,” Tabitha said. “Their depression makes them not want to do anything. It takes a lot to turn yourself the other way. I’ve been there, I’ve done it.
“I feel so much better now being clean, but I have a good support system,” she added.
She said keeping busy helps her stay focused.
“The less free time I have on my hands is better,” she added. “If I stay busy, the more I get accomplished.”
Tabitha said she enjoys helping others and enjoyed participating with the homeless count with team members from Heartland this year.
“I enjoyed it, I really did,” she said. “I want to be involved as much as I can in the community because I just love helping people.”
DearStephanie building a relationship
Several local citizens have taken the initiative to began nonprofit groups on Facebook in hopes of helping the homeless in the surrounding area. Groups such as Krystals Dream, Blanket of Blessings and DearStephanie brought needed items to the homeless count Jan. 27. Mike Munsterman, with Krystals Dream, brought bags of socks, coats, scarves and gloves, while Scott Siron with Blankets of Blessings brought blankets.
Cassie Rapp and Steve Schilb, with DearStephanie, attended the count and also brought 12 backpacks filled with food, hats and hygiene products.
“Steve Schilb and I thought of this idea,” Rapp said before going out for the count. “They are called the ‘Giving Back Packs,’” Rapp said “Basically its a short-term survival kit.”
Rapp said she became concerned when she saw a homeless woman sitting in front of the store she helps manage at Thompson Hills Shopping Center. The woman was there when Rapp came to work and still there when she left for lunch.
“When I came back from my lunch break I was watching her,” she said. “People were walking by her and looking at her like she was a nuisance. She wasn’t asking for money, she was just sitting there.
“She went from looking at people to looking down in her lap,” Rapp added. “It was like the more people who walked by her the more she felt like she was a nuisance. She seemed like she was broken and clearly she was homeless.”
Rapp said the woman had a cart next to her that held her belongings. After Rapp returned from lunch a Sedalia Police Department officer stopped to talk with the woman. He asked her to move along. The woman didn’t argue and got up to leave.
“She went to push her cart and it fell over,” Rapp said.
As the woman struggled to pick the cart up, Rapp said bystanders had their phones out filming the event.
“No one stopped to help her, except for the officer,” she added. “It was like everyone looked at her like she was a nuisance, like she was a disease.”
Rapp said she also stepped forward to help the woman.
“So many people see homelessness as a sickness,” Rapp said. “Just by giving them a backpack full of stuff isn’t really going to help.
“My ultimate goal is to give them these backpacks to build a relationship with them,” she added. “To help get them into a place like Pettis County Community Partnership to get the help they need. I want to treat the side effects.”
Many volunteer for first time
Of the 62 volunteers at the Jan. 27 homeless count, many came for the first time. Sedalia-Pettis County United Way Director Staci Harrison said they had 10 board members and two family members participating. For Harrison this was her first time to go out on the count. It was the first time for her fellow team members, on team three, Katy Trail Community Health CEO and SPCUW Community Impact Chair Chris Stewart, SPCUW Board member Dennis Scholl, 4th Ward City Council Woman Vicky Collins and Sedalia Democrat reporter Faith Bemiss.
The group covered the Missouri State Fairgrounds, Clarendon Road, Southwest Village, areas of state Route B and restaurants and a motel along a stretch of South Limit Avenue. Although they found no homeless people, there was evidence that some had possibly frequented the fairgrounds. Local restaurants told the team they often helped the homeless by letting them come inside to warm up or by giving them food.
Kendall Meyer, who works the front desk at Best Western State Fair Inn, said the motel works with Open Door Ministries and other agencies to provide overnight shelter for homeless in the area.
“Some people come in and want to use the computer or want a cup of coffee,” he added. “I’m not sure what their situation is.”
Harliegh Tubbs and Tia Williams of Subway said they sometimes see homeless coming into the sandwich shop to warm up; sometimes they offer them food. The staff at Sonic Drive-In reported they have witnessed people digging through their trash in the past. Two staff members at El Espolon Mexican Restaurant said they have also offered tacos to homeless people.
Most Missouri Counties covered in count
PCCP’s Parker told the Democrat Jan. 21 that, among other places, the volunteers would also check under bridges, in storage units, in railroad cars and at 24-hour gas stations. In the past, the approximate homeless count for Sedalia was around 60 people. Those numbers included both sheltered homeless and those living on the street. She said the Missouri Governor’s Committee to End Homelessness has been very helpful to their agencies in sending them tips.
“They are very supportive of all the communities doing this,” Parker added. “We have 101 counties in what is considered rural Missouri. For the Governor’s Committee purposes it’s called the ‘Balance of State,’ not metro area. This year they had every single county covered by an agency or group of volunteers except for two. With 101 counties that is amazing. So I think we’re going to get a very (efficient) count this year.”
Faith Bemiss can be reached at 530-0289 or @flbemiss.