A local advocate for emergency housing and homeless services is calling on cities along Warren County’s suburban corridor to become more invested in solutions for a persistent issue of …
A local advocate for emergency housing and homeless services is calling on cities along Warren County’s suburban corridor to become more invested in solutions for a persistent issue of residents becoming homeless.
Jane Kelley, a longtime advocate and a co-owner of the Anchor House efficiency apartments in Pendleton, recently visited aldermen in Warrenton, Truesdale and Wright City to sound the alarm about persistent lack of available housing for local residents in poverty. It’s a problem that exploded in 2020 when a large number of landlords stopped accepting government housing subsidies and sold their properties to new owners, Kelley said.
“We lost 75% of our subsidized housing,” Kelley commented. “We as a community have very few (low income) housing choices. ... The crazy thing is there’s tons of (assistance) money available. It’s not a money problem, it’s a housing crisis.”
In the absence of that housing, Kelley said nonprofit community agencies have to expend an enormous amount of money placing the people they can into motel rooms while they try to find permanent housing.
“I’ve had times in the last few years when all the motel beds were full, from High Hill to St. Charles, and they’re full of long-term homeless,” Kelley commented.
One of the ways advocates track data about homelessness is to look at the number of calls being placed to 211, the nationwide call number for critical assistance with housing, food, utilities, or other services for those in poverty.
In the past three months, 211 services have received 100 requests for emergency housing assistance from the Warrenton, Wright City, and Marthasville regions, according to the data tracking website 2-1-1 Counts. Of those, 59 of the requests came from Warrenton and 33 came from Wright City, which is enough to register both as high need areas when compared to their overall populations.
2-1-1 Counts also tracks the number of housing requests that went unmet, meaning that no help was available. Data from that last 90 days shows that 19% of requests for emergency shelter and 52% of requests for rent assistance to stay in a home went unmet.
Local agencies whose job is to assist the poor and homeless say there is no single “magic solution” to address homelessness. Instead, they point to communities where there are a variety of services available that provide different levels of assistance depending on the specific needs of individual people. This model is broadly referred to as “continuum of care.”
However, Kelley noted that communities in Warren County have often placed regulatory barriers in the way of providing low-income housing or emergency housing services, because those services are seen as undesirable.
Often, resistance comes from the idea that homeless people migrated here from outside the area, or that they are homeless by choice. Kelley commented that this is a misconception, and has given several presentations of video testimony from half-a-dozen longtime Warren County residents explaining the circumstances of how they became homeless.
In the short term, Kelley said she is simply asking city and county governments to designate a single person who can focus on the problem of homelessness in their local community.
In the long term, Kelley said local governments should be studying the model of other communities that have established broad robust programs and community partnerships for addressing homelessness.
Elected officials in Warrenton, Truesdale, and Wright City expressed general concern for the problem Kelley brought to them in visits during February, but said they don’t have the resources or expertise to tackle the problem themselves.
“We all want to be able to help and be a part of something, but where do we start? What do we do?” asked Mayor Chris Watson. “If somebody wants to propose an idea, who has years of experience and background of taking care of these (housing) places, and some statistics of how well it works, there wouldn’t be an issue. But we are definitely not the experienced people to say what is the right way or wrong way to do this.”
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