By the numbers, St. Joseph’s homeless population pales in comparison to other cities in Missouri.
An annual “Point in Time” count showed 204 homeless people in St. Joseph in 2018, compared to 275 in Joplin, 479 in Springfield and more than 1,600 in Kansas City. But St. Joseph counted only 159 homeless people in 2009 — a year of a major economic recession — and has seen its homeless population increase by about 7 percent in most years, according to a separate report from the Missouri Housing Development Commission.
Those who own property or businesses south of Downtown, where the homeless tend to congregate around service providers, don’t need to look at the numbers. They would point to the debris, vandalism, theft and other problems and say that St. Joseph does have a homeless problem.
In a recent meeting at City Hall, one property owner decried what he viewed as the “professional homeless” who take advantage of services.
Before discounting that point of view, consider that this property owner probably has more daily contact with homeless people than most others in St. Joseph, who are able to view this as a distant problem. Maybe they aren’t professional in the sense of profiting from homelessness, but the statement does reflect the chronic nature of this problem and the difficulty of moving the homeless population into a more self-sufficient status.
The St. Joseph City Council will vote soon on a plan to combat homelessness known as the “Urban Mission Project.” Mosaic Life Care is contributing up to $900,000 annually to help coordinate services, address core issues and transition the homeless into education, training and housing. That includes a police presence, which is a necessary aspect for protecting property in the area.
Property owners have grown frustrated at this problem in their neighborhood, especially as the situation seemed to worsen after the Salvation Army stopped providing shelter to homeless individuals. But it remains impossible to pinpoint any single cause of homelessness, which is why other proposed solutions — bus tickets out of town or the relocation of homeless services to Mosaic’s medical center campus — are unfeasible.
It remains to be seen whether the “Urban Mission” will be enough to get a handle on a complex problem that vexes cities across the country. But the plan presented to the council is the most detailed and well-funded one on the table. It’s a plan that has the broad aim of getting homeless people back on their feet, which remains an area of general agreement.
The council would be wise to support it.