Several members of the Homeless Study Committee gather to present their final report to city of Joplin representatives and gathered media. (Photo by Vince Rosati)
James Whitford, at left, co-chair of the committee addressing homelessness in Joplin, attempts to answer questions put to him by Mark Rohr, Joplin city manager. (Photo by Vince Rosati)
Volunteers serving on the Homeless Study Committee presented their findings and recommendations in a final report to the Homeless Steering Committee at a meeting held in Joplin City Hall on September 11. The 13-member committee comprised of outreach workers, business persons and a formerly homeless man had been working for about a year to define various aspects of homelessness as well as to identify ways to implement holistic programs that best would benefit the population. Serving as co-chairmen were James Whitford of Watered Gardens Outreach and Dan Pekarek, director of the Joplin Health Department.
"The Summit was the first step in the community to address homelessness from a group perspective and provide a public forum for ideas and suggestions," said Mayor Gary Shaw, member of the original steering committee. "We recognized that many are involved with ministries and resource agencies that provide assistance to this group. We knew that it would take a great deal of time and research to properly address this issue from various angles."
A fall 2008 research project conducted in Joplin by graduate students from the School of Social Work at Missouri State University seems to be the prevailing data the committee used to determine who were the homeless. Based upon a unique observation of 125 people, the student group reported that the average age of Joplin's homeless is 40 with three times more male homeless than female. Most of them are white, single, and have attained at least a high school education. Many were quoted as having complained that Joplin was short on services.
What the committee concluded from the student statistics was that a faith-based recovery center was needed in a central location that could serve as a short-stay shelter and provide an addiction recovery program option. Regarding the reminder expressed by Shaw that "these are people that may be on someone's couch" the committee also concluded that intervention with high risk families was necessary before they were forced onto the streets.
"Those coming off of the highway seem to know where they are going," commented City Manager Mark Rohr, who wanted to make sure that the welfare of those living here who become homeless was addressed rather than those who find their way here. He was agreeing with the attitude that compassion needs parameters and boundaries; otherwise, the world will beat a path to your door.
After the meeting when asked what might be done to remove the beggars that are cropping up on a growing number of street corners, Rohr said that he had addressed the problem with Joplin Chief of Police Lane Roberts, and was told that no police action was being taken as long as they weren't interfering with traffic or causing disturbances.
Regarding these people, Whitford had suggested that a billboard advertise the message, "don't give me money, give me food, shelter, etc." Money, it seems, simply profits the nearest liquor store owner.
Because of the concern of a growing number of residents regarding the panhandlers, Rohr said that he would broach the subject with the chief again.