Kirksville residents work to build local homeless shelter

Preferred Family Healthcare in Kirksville
Preferred Family Healthcare in Kirksville is home to the Shelter Plus Care Program, the only program for transitional housing in Kirksville.

A local non-profit corporation called AM Housing is making an effort to have a homeless shelter up and running in Kirksville as early as next fall.

The organization was formed this summer, with former Kirksville Mayor Glen Moritz serving as president and currently working on raising funds for the project. Representatives from AM Housing spoke during a City Council meeting Monday, Sept. 18, and asked the city to contribute money to the shelter in next year’s municipal budget. AM Housing representatives said there is need for a homeless shelter in Kirksville, and while nearby cities like Hannibal, Columbia, Boonville and Milan have shelters, Kirksville does not.

Moritz said the process began four months ago, and the corporation was formed shortly thereafter.

“I’ve kind of had a heart for this over the past couple years,” Moritz said.

Moritz said AM Housing is named for Andrew Moritz, his deceased son. He said the project is done in his spirit, and he is inspired by his son’s love and encouragement.

“I’m always thrilled to do something in my son’s name — he was such a giving and loving man,” Moritz said. “I try to live my life after his example after losing him almost six years ago.”

Moritz said he and John Dungan, former executive director of the United Way of Adair County/Northeast Missouri, had researched homelessness in Kirksville. He said he visited Project NEMO Connect — a state homelessness agency — and Budget Host Village Inn — a local hotel where churches occasionally pay for homeless individuals to stay one or two nights. Moritz said this made him consider the possibility of having a homeless shelter in Kirksville. He said he then visited some shelters in nearby cities.

Moritz said he likes the concept of the Boonville shelter, which he said provides individuals emergency housing for up to three days, then requires people look for a job as a condition of staying up to another 30 days. Moritz said if the job search is successful, people can stay for another 120 days while they save money for permanent housing.

Moritz said the organization will be applying for grants, and he said he hopes to get the project started by next fall. He said Truman State University students have spoken to him and his wife and shown interest in being involved with the project.

Tamarr Maclin, AM Housing board member, said the group has not raised a lot of money yet, but he said a Rotary Club is willing to donate, though they are looking for additional funding. He said operation costs to start the shelter and keep it running for a year are based on what kind of building is acquired or built, so a solid prediction cannot be made right now. However, he said he estimates the range would be between $200,000-500,000. He said it would be good to get some financial backing from the city and to receive assurance the community accepts the shelter.

Moritz said he spoke to Kirksville Mayor Phillip Biston about the project, and he said the mayor seemed receptive to the idea. Moritz said there has not been a consensus from the Council yet, but he said he is hopeful there will be cooperation and the city will contribute financially.

Moritz said he has talked about the project with many members of the public, and he said people he has spoken to think the shelter is a great idea and have expressed support.

Local criminal defense attorney Patrick Nolan is providing legal support to AM Housing pro bono. He said the corporation is licensed as a non-profit organization in Missouri, but is still waiting on approval to become a federally-recognized non-profit.

Nolan said poverty and homelessness have negative effects on a community because those suffering from poverty tend to consume more public services than those who are more affluent. He said homeless people have more contact with law enforcement and with people who could potentially harm them. Nolan said because people take advantage of the homeless population, they are more likely to be victims and perpetrators of crime.

“Crimes of poverty take up so much of law enforcement and the courts’ time,” Nolan said. “If we put a fraction of the money we spent enforcing those laws into alleviating the conditions that create them, we could save money and help people.”

Nolan said there are many considerations going into selecting a location for the shelter, especially since the shelter should be a safe place and not a problematic location.

Nolan said the building must also comply with city codes and requirements. In addition, he said plans for maintenance, development and integration into the community are being considered by AM Housing so the shelter becomes something that adds value to the community, instead of an eyesore.

“Unfortunately, poverty is a cycle,” Nolan said. “And once people start into it, if there isn’t a hand or some form of help to lift them out of that spot, it’s very difficult.”

Nolan said there are many factors that contribute to a bad social and financial situation for individuals. He said depression, criminal charges and physical disabilities all impair a person’s chances of getting a job and breaking the cycle of poverty. Even someone who needs glasses and cannot get them, or someone who pays child support and cannot afford it, can be severely affected, he said.

Nolan said homelessness in Kirksville might not be very visible because being homeless doesn’t always mean people living in tents or sleeping on sidewalks.

“The homelessness we have in Kirksville isn’t the homelessness of New York City or [Los Angeles],” Nolan said. “You’ve got people that are staying with somebody, sleeping on the couch. You have people where there’s two or three families in a little one- or two-bedroom apartment.”

Assistant City Manager Ashley Young said the City of Kirksville has been working with Project Homeless Connect since 2013. He said Kirksville’s branch of Project Homeless Connect — which he said has rebranded as Project NEMO Connect — is currently conducting a needs assessment as a precursor to building a homeless shelter in Kirksville. The feedback from the assessment will be important in determining what the community needs from a shelter.

Young said the Council will have to evaluate both proposals. He said there was a common goal between the two organizations, and he said he thinks it would be beneficial if everybody could work together.

“We recognize that there’s an issue — there’s a problem with homelessness in Kirksville — and we want to address it,” Young said. “I think the better way to go about that would be to combine our resources, combine our efforts and work towards that together.”

Young said Project NEMO Connect is not promoted in the same way as other community organizations or events are because it is specifically targeted toward the homeless population, so the work of the organization is not always visible to the general public.

Young said he did not want to disparage the efforts of AM Housing, because it is considering the best interests of the community.

“Their heart’s in the right place, and they’re moving forward as they see fit, and I think that’s important,” Young said.

Young said the City of Kirksville has been providing Project NEMO Connect with staff support and continues to collect data and determine what next steps they want to take. He said a homeless shelter in Kirksville would provide housing and access to assistance, making an effort to help people out of poverty instead of having the shelter as a permanent solution. Young said the Council would have to consider the different proposals before deciding on funding or a course of action.

Maclin said in addition to his work with AM Housing, he serves as housing case manager and runs the homeless shelter for High Hope Employment Services in Milan, Missouri. He said the shelter he runs in Milan and the Shelter Plus Care — a housing voucher program in Kirksville — are the only housing resources in the NEMO area. He said homeless individuals must meet certain requirements to qualify for either of these services.

“We would always [say] that we needed more resources in Kirksville because Kirksville’s a big hub,”

Maclin said. “Seventeen thousand people are there. A lot of people come in there to go shopping, it just has a lot of traffic coming through there. And then I was also thinking that Milan — which is 2,000 people — has a 17-unit homeless shelter. I can only imagine that Kirksville should have the same thing, but they don’t.”

Maclin said he was part of an earlier, informal group talking about bringing a shelter to Kirksville, but he said that project did not materialize. He said he joined Moritz in an early effort to partner with another organization with the goal of creating a local shelter. When the group was unable to connect themselves to another organization, they formed AM Housing themselves.

Maclin said when he encounters someone in need of additional help or resources, he tries to point them to somewhere they can be helped.

“A lot of people … who come in have a lot of mental health issues, or they have some sickness,” Maclin said. “They have a lot of things that they don’t have the money or the resources to try to get. So they would come to us, and we would try to get them resources.”

Maclin said he knows about 60 people in Kirksville who need the services a homeless shelter would provide. He said homelessness is a growing problem in the area which isn’t going away.