By: Brian Evans

Homelessness in America has been an ongoing issue, and more recently, an increasing problem for cities throughout America! In the past, Joplin has been able to keep the number of homeless low, but sadly that trend is beginning to change, and not in the right direction!

Too many times, homelessness is a government-inflicted outcome. In fact, as America continues to see a trend towards high inflation, it is hitting our working class and poorer communities the most. Sadly, we are now heading into potentially one of the worst crises that we have seen in decades!

In most American cities, the government tends to focus on the emergency response, rather than finding solutions to reducing the inflow of homeless citizens onto the streets, and increasing the outflow of homeless from the streets and back into society.

In addition, the national, state, and city governments spend most of their resources focusing on government-run solutions, rather than acting as a facilitator and utilizing the vast networks of Christian and other charity organizations who have far-reaching experience, and well-established networks in place to strategize, organize, and implement programs that assist the homeless in getting them off the streets, and reincorporated back into society!

While it is important for our emergency response to be strong and well run, it is as important, if not more important, to ensure that we decrease the inflow of homeless, while simultaneously increasing the outflow of the homeless. Otherwise, we are spinning our wheels to get nowhere, hurting those on the streets the most, and at a monumental cost to the taxpayers!

In 2019, Joplin had more than 700 families staying at homeless shelters, including 500 at Watered Gardens, and 200 at Soul’s Harbor. Since then, our homeless population, and the at-risk has only increased, as they can be seen more commonly begging for money on street corners, living in our parks, under bridges, and other places throughout Joplin.

Unfortunately, it is a trap of homelessness for too many individuals and families, which many times becomes a cyclical problem known as ‘chronic homelessness. 

Even more concerning, is the fact that there are a number of people who are merely one paycheck from becoming homeless, with some of our homeless spending years, if not decades on the streets! Combine that with the government’s implementation of the Covid-19 shutdown and mass firing of employees who are unvaccinated, it has led to an even greater homeless problem in Joplin and  throughout American cities! 

In Joplin, the Homeless Coalition has hosted what is called ‘Homeless Connect’ at Memorial Hall, which is an event where low-income residents and the recently homeless can learn about available programs like social security assistance, employment, and mental health education, as well as health care options available. However, although those programs help to treat the crisis that the homeless find themselves in at any given moment by helping to reduce the homeless problem, it needs a greater buy in and expansion of reach for the at-risk.

Furthermore, it cannot solve a problem that is being further exacerbated by government policies like increased taxes, higher regulations, lockdowns, open borders, drug trafficking, massive numbers of illegal aliens crossing into the United States, the legalization and access of drugs, and other policies that place a heavy burden on both the middle class and poor in our community.

Shawnee family warns of fentanyl dangers after son overdoses

In reality, as homelessness in our community increases, it forces us to spend the majority of the funding and time on the ‘emergency response’, with little left for prevention, accomodation, or supports for the at-risk, which would help stop new residents from ending up on the streets by the means of identifying those who are at-risk, and then helping to prevent them from landing on the streets. It also would simultaneously help the current homeless population to find jobs, attain housing placements, and re-incorporate them back into our society; thus, improving their quality of life!

Today, Joplin’s homeless population lives in unsafe areas within our city, as they try to seek some shelter from the elements, have access to restrooms, and attain food and clothing. Therefore, it is imperative for the Joplin government not to try to be the solution to the problem, as the government only tends to make problems worse, but instead, act as a facilitator for a solution! This can be done by working as a facilitator or intermediator for all parties who are actively trying to help, such as christian charities, watered gardens, soul’s harbor, homeless coalition, drug help centers, and others who have pre-existing infrastructure that can help plug the hole that our citizens fall through, and work quickly to get them off the streets and back into society by helping them learn how to be able to help themselves!

Ultimately to accomplish this, early detection of the at-risk is crucial in alleviating Joplin’s homeless problem. However, in order to do this there are a number of key problems that must be identified which trigger and contribute to homelessness amongst our population. These factors include… 

  1. drug / alcohol abuse
  2. sickness / disabilities
  3. incarceration
  4. abuse at home
  5. eviction
  6. debt to income 
  7. job loss
  8. open borders / illegal immigration

Sadly, too many in our community suffer from drug and/or alcohol abuse, especially as drugs become even more prevalent in our society. These problems lead to many of our residents falling into a trap of hopelessness, depression, financial hardship and ruin, and finally ending up homeless and on the streets! Other issues that lead to similar consequences include sickness and disabilities, job losses, massive debts piling up which leads to evictions, spousal and child abuse, and incarceration due to  the inadequate system of reincorporating felons back into society effectively! Finally, the quickly growing numbers of drug traffickers utilizing open borders, as well as illegal aliens who are coming across the southern border and settling in cities nationwide, has led to massive growth in homelessness, drug abuse, and other issues nationwide, and Southwest Missouri is not immune to these growing crises.

Therefore, if Joplin is ultimately going to effectively reduce the growing numbers of homeless within our city, we have to become more effective facilitators in identifying those at-risk by utilizing churches, charities, the police, schools, and other groups who have vast assistance and financial networks in place to quickly reach out and provide help and relief for the at-risk, and those on the streets, before it becomes too late for those individuals and families. One group that has been working towards this goal of helping give the homeless and potentially homeless a hand up is know as the Vita Nova Village, started by Rhonda Thompson, who has been working dilligently in recent years to make this concept a reality! Ultimately, if the city worked to help facilitate this idea alongside the community organizations, it would make massive inroads into the growing Joplin homeless problem!

Therefore, we need to reach out to those same groups to find out what we can do to help them be able to help those who are already on the streets, and identify what they need in order to be able to move back into society quickly, successfully, and safely. If we can do that, we may not be able to end homelessness in Joplin, but we should be able to make huge inroads into reducing the current number of homeless within our community, thereby improving the quality of life for those who are at-risk, provide life-lines for those living on the street, and ultimately help the community as a whole.