[Hpn] Homeless Tally Shows Many Are In Shelters

William C. Tinker wtinker@metrocast.net
Sun, 6 Feb 2005 10:21:30 -0500


Recent tally of homeless shows many in shelters


A recent count of Springfield's homeless population found that 95 percent
were able to find a dry, warm bed in one of the city's shelters.
"This means ... that we have been successful in at least getting a (large
percentage) of homeless people off the street in less than a year's time.
The last time we did the count was in May, and this count was in January,"
said Rita Tarr, executive director of Contact Ministries.
The latest count was conducted Jan. 28 by members of the mayor's task force
on homelessness and the Heartland Continuum of Care. The groups found 443
homeless people in Springfield, of whom 420 were in shelters and 23 were in
the streets. During the count in May, 449 homeless people were found, of
whom 370 were in shelters and 79 were on their own.
Tarr attributed the latest figure to a concentrated effort by the community.
Helping Hands and the Salvation Army added beds for the winter months, and
an overflow shelter was opened that is staffed by volunteers.
The overflow shelter is in the basement of the Contact Ministries/Helping
Hands building, 1100 E. Adams St. Typically, about 40 people have been at
the overflow shelter this winter.
One of the major reasons behind the overflow shelter was the death last
winter of 41-year-old Michael Moffett.
Moffett, who died from exposure to cold temperatures, was found the morning
of Jan. 12, 2004, huddled against a concrete wall of the Clear Lake Avenue
The former Chicago resident had entered the Springfield social service
system about a month before his death after being released from prison. He
decided not to go back to Cook County, and local shelters tried to help him.
In the end, it is believed mental illness played a role in his decision to
avoid help.
"We don't want anybody out on the street. Unfortunately, when you have even
one individual who freezes to death because he didn't have access to a
shelter, that is too many," Tarr said.
Of the 443 people counted Jan. 28, 374 were adults and 69 were children.
There were 266 men and 177 women. Volunteers found that 207 had disabling
conditions, either physical or mental.
During the count, Tarr said the group she was with found one person sleeping
in the doorway of a downtown building and three people sleeping on the porch
of an abandoned home. The people on the porch were inside a cardboard box,
and the man in the doorway was wrapped in several blankets and had a garbage
bag around his legs.
The overflow shelter is expected to close March 31. Local officials plan to
reopen the facility Nov. 1.
"I wish that we were going to be able to solve this homeless problem
overnight, but we are not," Tarr said. "But I am pleased with the progress
we have made in the last year.
"People who had never been involved in social service or had ever dreamed
that they would be volunteering at a shelter have stepped forward ... and
are very glad that they are able to help with this problem."

John Reynolds can be reached at 788-1524 or john.reynolds@sj-r.com