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Homelessness in St. Charles County: A problem that is not going away

Homelessness in St. Charles County [photo courtesy of Sts. J & A Care Service]

Homelessness in St. Charles County [photo courtesy of Sts. J & A Care Service]

In a county that has a poverty rate of 5.2 percent, the lowest poverty rate of any county in Missouri, where residential development continues largely unabated and the median income of households is $75,603 annually; homelessness would seem to be but a blip on the radar screen.

But the blip, while not as bright as in other parts of the St. Louis area, is still shining brightly for local agencies, churches and organizations trying to alleviate poverty and issues like homelessness. Still, there is some good news. In the last 7.5 months, those agencies and organizations have been able to find more housing for residents who are homeless or on the verge of homelessness.

Thanks to a coordinated entry program run by the St. Charles County Community Council more than 186 of those residents now have more permanent housing with a goal of 300 residents “under roofs” by the end of the year.

The program also provides a snapshot of the nature of the problem and the people who are homeless.

Todd Barnes, executive director for the Community Council, told the St. Charles County Council on Sept 10 that the community council has taken over handling inquires seeking help from local agencies in St. Charles Lincoln and Warren counties. The community council has taken on a “front door, one telephone number” approach to calls for help, he said.

Barnes said before the coordinated entry program began, on Jan. 23 of this year, if someone needed help they called a friend or the 2-1-1 help number administered by the United Way of Greater St. Louis, which would generate a list of agencies the person could call for help.  “Now we’ve started taking those initial phone calls on behalf of the agencies.”

The community council opted for a system they found in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. “You basically make one call and [undergo] one assessment to match you with agencies that might be able to help,” Barnes said in an interview. The community council has trained caseworkers interviewing callers to determine their needs and ultimately making referrals to appropriate agencies.

Community entry programs are mandated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development [HUD], which provide financial aid to agencies. Barnes said there are nine HUD mandated agencies with which the community council works; it also has formal and informal agreements with about 70 agencies, individuals and churches it can tap into for help. The idea is to reduce duplication of services.

Residents who are on the streets, or who are two weeks from being there, are considered for homelessness aid. People need to call 2-1-1 and enter their zip code to initiate contact with the community council.

Barnes said his appearance before the county council appearance is one of many he is making before local government officials to describe the program and its promising results so far. He noted that the community council has financial support through 2020 thanks to local cities and a Missouri Foundation of Health grant that will run out that year. The agency may request for $75,000 from the county in 2021.

Homelessness in St. Charles County [photo courtesy of Sts. J & A Care Service]

Homelessness in St. Charles County [photo courtesy of Sts. J & A Care Service]

By the numbers

The statistics gathered annually by the community council draw a picture of the nature and demographics of poverty and homeless in the county. The community council has taken 2,900 telephone calls through 7.5 months this year – 75 percent of those calls are from St. Charles County.

One in three homeless persons are between the ages of 24 and 44; Barnes said 38 percent are age 18 or younger and largely the children of homeless adults. Fifty-nine percent are female; 40 percent are single moms. Thirty percent are single females or males.

Forty percent are employed with one or two jobs and 70 percent have an income of less than $25,100 for a family of four – an issue when the average rental cost of an apartment in St. Charles County is $932 a month.

Two out of three have health insurance such as Medicare, Medicaid or high-deductible policies that limit its use, Barnes said.

The city of St. Charles has the highest number of assessments for homeless people so far this year with 352 followed by the county’s unincorporated area, which includes areas within cities such as Cottleville, Weldon Spring and Dardenne Prairie with 287, O’Fallon with 273, Wentzville with 258 and St. Peters with 220.

Barnes said city officials questioned some of those numbers, with St. Charles Mayor Sally Faith saying that the number of single males who are homeless is higher, particularly near the I-70 and I-270 bridges across the Missouri River. O’Fallon officials said that 82 percent of their homeless residents are in the 24-44 age group.

“This the first time we’ve actually seen this as a continuum, as a full picture of what our homeless neighbors are like,” Barnes said. The information may help in addressing where service can be concentrated. But while the community council’s work is welcomed, it does not tell the whole story of homelessness, particularly for the agencies in the trenches, those providing help for people.

Homelessness in St. Charles County [photo courtesy of Sts. J & A Care Service]

Homelessness in St. Charles County [photo courtesy of Sts. J & A Care Service]

In the trenches

“The work we’re doing hasn’t changed,” said Pam Struckhoff, director of program services at St. Joachim and Ann Care Service, one of the county’s largest social service agencies.

There were 532 persons, including 155 children, that were found to be in shelters and without shelters in the three-county area during the annual Homeless Point and Time Count conducted by the community council on Jan. 31. Those counts have shown decreases in homeless persons in the last five years but the decline was not as much in the last year, Struckhoff said. One reason is that the county has a “slim market for affordable housing.”

“To live in my zip code, somebody would have to make more than $25 an hour,” Struckhoff said.

Struckhoff said these days agencies are seeing more medically fragile people, often with diabetes and heart disease and an increase in people with mental illnesses. Another issue is the lack of accommodations for single men in the county. “There is nothing in this county for single men or men with families who are homeless,” Struckhoff said. “No shelter will take them.” Barnes agreed that there is less help available for single men.

Struckhoff said one reason is “huge stereotypes” that men are drunk, alcoholic or avoid work because they are lazy.

Some homeless with few options have opted to pitch a tent and live outside. Even when men find an apartment, they’ve been known to go back to a tent. “They feel safer on the street than they do in housing,” Struckhoff said. “They are always waiting for that shoe to drop.”

Many homeless feel the pressure of paying rent and being responsible to others such as a landlord or agency that got them into an apartment. Struckhoff pointed to one client who lived in an apartment for 18 months but refused to get furniture. All he had was an air mattress, she said, “because he was waiting for something to happen. They just don’t feel comfortable.”

But there is not much comfort living in a tent, particularly when the weather turns extreme – hot in summer, cold in winter. To illustrate the challenges of being homeless and to raise awareness, the Sts. J & A Care Service is hosting “Sleep Out Saturday” from 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 10 to 7:30 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 11 on its campus at 4116 McClay Road in St. Charles.

The event coincides with National Homelessness and Hunger Awareness Week and, hopefully, will generate funds for homeless assistance programs. The cost is $30 a person, with a virtual option for donors who want to give but not camp. The event will feature speakers and a shelter-building competition among other activities.

Along with participants, sponsors are being sought. Both are urged to contact Hannah Rae Lumley at (636) 441-1302, ext. 263 or via email at hlumley@jacares.org to learn more.


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