"Until we solve the affordable housing crisis, we're always going to be seeing homeless people."
Kari Utterback is a senior planner at Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services – focusing on coordinated entry and homelessness.
She spoke about some of the resources unsheltered and unhoused Columbians have this winter, as well as about some of the roots causes of homelessness in our community.
Missouri Health Talks gathers Missourians’ stories of access to healthcare in their own words.
Kari Utterback: Homelessness is very nuanced, and so, I think just having the community understand what some of those nuances are, and that homelessness is a loss of support and an affordable housing problem, as opposed to any kind of moral judgment or personal attack.
These are system wide problems that we have – there just so happens to be people's lives at stake.
So, we have a lot of agencies – some that specifically helped with homelessness and some that help our unsheltered individuals who are trying to rough sleep in the wintertime.
We're actually really on the upswing of our homelessness funding. So, the fact that we have Room at the Inn operating – now it's going to be open all year, that's just really, really huge – we've never had it be open this early.
So, the fact that like it's already open and people are already out of the inclement weather is just such a burden off my heart, honestly.
"So, the fact that [Room at the Inn is] already open and people are already out of the inclement weather is just such a burden off my heart, honestly.Kari Utterback
We also have the contract with Turning Point for the overnight warming center. So, oftentimes in the winter, it's the overnight hours that are the coldest. So, we have contracted with Turning Point, and they are going to be open again this year for our overnight warming center. So, folks who can't or won't go to Room at the Inn, will be eligible to come to a warm space, safe space where we know they won't freeze to death.
So, my hope is that we don't have any weather-related deaths in our homeless encampments and on our homeless list. That's my hope – is that we don't lose anybody to the weather.
My concern is partially capacity – we're just seeing so many new faces, and that's what the agencies are saying at every meeting, like, “Oh, we met someone new. We met a new family. I met some car campers I'd never seen before,” and so, when multiple agencies are reporting new faces, that makes me concerned about the capacity we currently have,
So, yes, homeless people exist and that's sh**ty. Affordable housing could cure that, but until then, like these people still exist, and they need somewhere to exist – and often that's in public space.
And it sucks to see someone hurting, right? And like someone sleeping outside is obviously hurting, and it's hard to see that – like, don't get me wrong, like, I really wish that we could not have a homeless population, but until we solve the affordable housing crisis, like we're always going to be seeing homeless people.
And I think just, it can be so many different things that are very, very normal – like a death in the family, or a medical emergency, or an eviction or multiple evictions – like it can be very normal circumstances that have that lead to someone being homeless.