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HUD reports homelessness down 2.6 percent in MO, but organizations say different

Posted at 5:57 PM, Jan 16, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-16 20:03:03-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Department of Housing and Urban Development says homelessness in Missouri has gone down 2.6 percent since 2017.

Some homeless advocacy groups say they did not see that decrease last year, and they anticipate the number of people needing help to increase even more in 2019.

"Our homeless situation actually started during the housing crisis," said Heather, a woman receiving services from Sheffield Place. "I couldn't make my mortgage payments anymore so it started back then. I just [got] upset and started using drugs again."

Heather and her 7-year-old daughter have been at Sheffield Place going on five years. They lived in the facility for one year and are now in the program's transitional housing. They hope to move on to permanent housing on their own soon.

"You've got to be able to say, 'I don't know what I'm doing, or what I'm doing right now isn't working for me so maybe I need to take some advice and try,"' said Heather.

Sheffield Place serves people like Heather' Single and homeless mothers with children.

In 2018, 92 percent of the women came to the program with a mental health diagnosis and 90 percent had substance abuse issues.

Heather is not considered homeless under HUD standards because she's technically under a lease agreement.

"The numbers have decreased over that time period but mostly because the definition has changed," said Laura Welch, executive director of Sheffield Place.

Welch says that definition may be why HUD is reporting the decrease in homelessness.

HUD notes a 5.8 percent decrease for families with children since 2017.

Welch says they're seeing the opposite.

"In 2016, we had 624 phone calls for services. In 2017, we had 725. And then in 2018, we had 850," Welch said. "Our demand for services rises each year and that's pretty much been the last seven or eight years."

She says that could be because there is more awareness about available services.

Out of the hundreds of calls, they can only serve less than half.

"Even the ones who are successful and go on to permanent housing really are the working poor. Just the slightest thing, somebody gets sick, you miss work and they have no backup because they're making $10, $12 an hour," said Welch.

The plant Heather was working at closed down and she was on unemployment for six months. She just found a new job and will start soon. However, she has to build up her savings account again.

"My rent is based on my income, so it's 30 percent of whatever I make," Heather said. "That's a saving grace because if my rent was still $500 we'd be homeless again."

It takes years for someone to pull themselves out of homelessness, she says.

Welch says they hope to serve the growing need by expanding their buildings so they can see more success stories like Heather.