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Nonprofit approaches city about support for homeless population

by Joe Gamm | March 17, 2023 at 4:00 a.m.
Josh Dunn with Housing the Community JC, discusses issues for the unhoused as they attempt to gain the support of Jefferson City and Cole County officials in a forum Thursday evening. (Ken Barnes/News Tribune)

Housing the Community Jefferson City hosted city leaders Thursday evening to discuss how the city might support the new nonprofit's efforts to overcome homelessness.

HCJC evolved from a committee within the Jefferson City Homeless Task Force, led by Stefani Thompson, community organizer for Central Community Action. A goal is to connect people experiencing homelessness in the community with resources and services.

The group has identified having a year-round daytime drop-in center as a major need for the unhoused community, according to Scott Johnston, president of the HCJC board. Asked about the need for a year-round overnight shelter, he said that is another step in providing services for the community.

"Our vision would be to have an overnight shelter connected to the drop-in center," Johnston said. "If that opportunity presented itself, we would run with it."

Catholic Charities of Northern and Central Missouri has generously let HCJC operate Room at the Inn at its offices, 1015 Edmonds St., but that has ended for the winter. Room at the Inn is an overnight shelter only open during the (generally) coldest months of the year. Catholic Charities uses the space during the day for programs and trainings.

"We have the opportunity to work with Catholic Charities right now with the shelter. We also feel the immediate need for the drop-in center," Johnston said. "We've kind of got these two models. If you could put them together, that would be great, but right now we're kind of gathering support for a drop-in center."

The state of homelessness in Jefferson City boiled to the surface in May of last year, when Missouri River Regional Library Director Claudia Young had to put her foot down concerning some homelessness conduct. At one point, Young was forced to remove two people who had been fighting from the library.

But she emphasized that staff members have compassion for the homeless in the city who use the library as a place where they can take shelter during the day.

The price of compassion is high, Young told people gathered for Thursday's community discussion. And people approach her with concerns about homeless people in the library. At the same time, other community members are grateful the library leaves its doors open to the homeless population.

The 2022 incident led the Jefferson City Homelessness Task Force to more aggressively begin seeking solutions for members' unhoused friends.

The task force, and now HCJC, are focusing on creating a no-barrier drop-in center somewhere near downtown Jefferson City, close to where the greatest numbers of homeless people in the city live.

"Our vision, our dream, is to sometime have a drop-in shelter and an emergency shelter together. But right now, we're focusing on a drop-in center, which would be tentatively a half-day operation, Monday through Friday where people can come in in the morning," Johnston told Mayor Carrier Tergin and City Administrator Steven Crowell, who attended the community discussion with about 25 other people. City Councilman Ron Fitzwater, who is running unopposed for mayor, was also invited to the discussion, but didn't show because of illness.

"What we hope to do is serve as an access point to other services in the community," Johnston continued.

Tergin told the group that to find success with the city, it should coordinate numerous nonprofits who provide services to homeless people in the community -- including churches, the faith community, Catholic Charities, the Salvation Army of Jefferson City, Common Ground Community Building, Building Community Bridges and others -- and come to the city as one coordinated body.

She offered that the group should bring information about what makes a day shelter model successful. If the city can see the umbrella that is covering all those services, it would be helpful, she said.

Johnston said HCJC has found a lot of great partnerships between city and county governments and local nonprofits concerning the unhoused.

"That's kind of what we're looking for tonight, is kind of a commitment to work with us as a coordinating body to help address this issue," he said.

  photo  Mayor Carrie Tergin speaks with City Administrator Steven Crowell about issues of the unhoused in Jefferson Ciry at a forum hosted by Housing the Community JC Thursday. (Ken Barned/News Tribune)
  photo  Scott Johnston, Board President of Housing the Community JC, speaks to the issues of the unhoused and how this new organization can help that population of Jefferson City during a forum Thursday night to try to garner the support of Jefferson City and Cole County officials. (Ken Barnes/News Tribune)

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