A lack of affordable and accessible housing are unmet needs that dominated the conversation Thursday during a public meeting.
Jefferson City is eligible for $2 million in Community Development Block Grant COVID-19 relief funding from the state. Part of the city’s application includes seeking input from the public.
City staff received 322 responses to a survey about the city’s unmet needs and more than 30 people took part in Thursday’s meeting.
Rachel Senzee, neighborhood services supervisor, is planning to have at least one more meeting in the coming weeks. She said it would be in the evening, but the date is to be determined.
This funding will go toward aspects of city life affected by COVID-19, but the city also has other funding sources coming down the pipeline that could go to other needs.
The project areas for this pool of money would be infrastructure, community facilities, public service, economic development, planning and
All members of the public who spoke Thursday discussed homelessness or a lack of affordable housing.
When asked to rate Jefferson City housing, most respondents rated categories such as housing for people with disabilities, single-family housing, affordable rental housing, residential rehabilitation and senior housing as either poor or fair.
Housing was also ranked second highest in terms of priority, second to public works/infrastructure and above categories such as public services, economic development, education and community facilities.
While there was a consensus that Jefferson City has a housing issue, different ways to address it were offered.
For instance, Jordanna Boyd, regional director of social services for the Salvation Army, said the organization is looking into restructuring its shelter into something more akin to a hotel.
The Salvation Army operates as a low-barrier shelter with the only requirements being a photo ID. The shelter also doesn’t accept sex offenders.
“We do our best, if they don’t have their vital documents,” she said. “If we can go to the Department of Corrections and pull up their photo to identify who they are or we can go to a sheriff’s department and there’s a mugshot, we will use that to eliminate that barrier that may have presented in the first place.”
While the change was brought up because of COVID-19, she said, it would also give individuals responsibility over their space similar to how they would in a home or apartment.
“There’s less risk of community transmission of COVID-19 or any viruses that may happen in the future,” she said.
Scott Johnston, with the Jefferson City Homelessness Task Force, said the need for a wet shelter, which would not require people to avoid alcohol while staying there, and more places for people to go during the winter exists.
“What was identified by our group, informally, initially was the need for a wet shelter or a low-barrier emergency shelter,” he said. “The need continually comes up for folks that are out on the streets and it gets really cold. We want to keep them from freezing and have a safe place for them to live.”
Johnston said the organization is in conversations with Catholic Charities about setting up a shelter starting this weekend, but there’s still a need for help to plan and fund the project.
Current conversations would have the shelter only open if it gets below a certain temperature at night, he said, and is based off a program in Columbia.
“We have no idea the numbers,” Johnston said. “We’ll find out what the need is this year when we try it out … We’re thinking five to 10. Columbia gets 30-40, we’ve heard, a night or more.”
Alicia Edwards, Building Community Bridges director of operations, urged those in attendance to work together to address these issues. She suggested bringing the various organizations together, along with members of city staff, to share resources and help ensure organizations aren’t overlapping in the help they offer.
Edwards said she would like to build a community hub that could serve as a youth center, grocery store, restaurant, internet cafe and 24-hour daycare, among other things.
Senzee said some of these projects might not qualify for the CDBG-CV funding, but there is an additional pool of money categorized as disaster relief specifically geared toward housing.
However, the CDBG-CV funding might be eligible to help plan some of these projects.
Doug Wright, founder of Building Community Bridges, said the affordable housing issue in Jefferson City needs to be addressed.
For instance, he said, “the projects” don’t have central air and rely on organizations like the Salvation Army to donate fans.
“This is the 21st century, a house is not built without central air,” he said. “But who cares? That’s the low end of the totem pole. I care because my grandkids are over there.”
Wright said the main thing is everybody deserves somewhere safe to live.
“We need to think about people who are alcoholics, drug addicts, sex cases, domestic violence (victims),” he said. “We need to have a place for them … people who have problems and a system for teaching.
“We’re all part of this y’all. Some of us may go to our places at the end of the day, but when we’re out here in these stores, we’re out here and we’re part of the problem. We keep going on by.”
Originally Appeared Here