JOPLIN, Mo. — Individuals experiencing homelessness face many hardships, and extreme winter and summer temperatures can be deadly. Following last winter’s below freezing weather, locals recognized the need to have a plan in place to aid Joplin’s homeless population when crises strike.
In February 2021, H.E.A.T. — the Homeless Emergency Action Team of Joplin — was formed to assemble that plan. The group is taking charge to provide emergency response and temporary shelter for the homeless community during extreme temperatures.
But providing emergency response during critical weather isn’t the only thing the group will do, H.E.A.T. will also offer year-round Street Teams to assist the unhoused and meet their immediate needs.
Emergency response during critical weather
H.E.A.T. will have a dedicated storage facility housing the supplies needed to open an emergency shelter. During a crisis, those supplies will be transported to a temporary shelter where H.E.A.T. will set up the facility.
H.E.A.T. volunteers will be needed to make the temporary shelter possible.
Volunteers will be trained to:
- Provide emergency medical services, security for the facility and more.
- Offer transportation for guests as needed.
- Check guests in, issue supplies to guests and keep track of the census.
- Acquire and serve meals to guests.
General volunteers will help in these various areas.
The location of the temporary shelter is to be decided before summer, when cooling stations will be necessary. H.E.A.T Director Joe Johnson says it should be located in Downtown Joplin where the majority of the homeless population is located.
Year-round Street Teams
Street Team members will have a year-round presence in the community. They will provide “on the spot” services to homeless citizens, refer local resources and provide transportation on an emergency basis.
“We’re not trying to start a [permanent] homeless shelter… We’re more interested in meeting the immediate needs of the folks,” said Johnson.
“We’re going to be going around and actively seeking homeless folks… In our vehicles will be supplies. There will be water, sunscreen, rain ponchos, first aid, whatever is necessary to help that person out in that moment,” he said.
But the H.E.A.T. Street Teams plan to take it even further when it comes to caring for the unhoused. Johnson says the biggest issue facing our homeless community is addiction, and that they need help from others to overcome it.
“For them to be able to get the motivation to go check themselves into a program, it’s difficult, it’s almost impossible because they have no support system. We want to be that support system,” he said. “All of us need that in our lives.”
The Street Teams will help homeless individuals get checked into recovery facilities. They will also come visit throughout their stay and provide support, helping them feel like “people care with no expectations.”
These outings will take place whenever volunteers are available.
When last winter’s emergency temperatures occurred, churches and agencies like Minnie Hackney in Joplin offered warming stations for certain periods of time. Many volunteers, groups and businesses came together to meet the homeless population’s needs.
“Something life changing happened to me,” said Johnson about his time volunteering at Minnie Hackney.
But some issues, like transportation to emergency shelters and security within shelters occurred. H.E.A.T. wants to address these issues and others like capacity and fire safety when it comes to their temporary shelter.
“The next time something like that happens we need to be prepared. The city doesn’t have a contingency plan for that,” said Johnson.
Also, most agencies rely on homeless individuals to come to them for help and that presents an issue.
“I know that sounds like that’s not asking much on their part, but it’s not showing an awareness of where the mindset is with these folks,” said Johnson.
The few homeless shelters in Joplin also have rules and restrictions individuals must follow to be let in. Commonly, shelters will turn away individuals that have any alcohol in their system and sometimes guests must adhere to “certain religious principles.”
“Not saying it’s good or bad… We need to recognize they need help first and then the other stuff we can worry about later,” said Johnson. “I don’t want to enable someone to not get better, but building that relationship first is important.”
What the community can do
Johnson encourages Joplin citizens to consider giving to the homeless population in any way they can.
“The number one thing I think paralyzes people from giving is that people don’t feel like they have enough to give… Anything given out of love or empathy is going to blossom,” he said.
Locals can help monetarily or by giving their time and support. Johnson says that this is a chance to be part of something positive in a time of divisiveness.
“If we just let somebody else take care of it and ignore it, we’re also denying the ability to be part of something bigger,” he said. “Our mental health as a community needs it.”
Johnson hopes to have the community’s support. He wants the way Joplin treats its homeless population to serve as a template for surrounding communities.
“We’re hoping that, not just the city of Joplin, but the community sees that we’re having a positive effect… We are going to need the support of the community to make this happen, even if it’s just not going against us,” said Johnson. “Wouldn’t it be great if one of the things Joplin was known for was taking care of our homeless citizens?”
But Johnson explains that this initiative is a two-way street.
“What the homeless folks have to understand is that if they want their quality of life to improve, they’re going to have to give as well and by give I mean be willing to become more community oriented with one another,” he said.
The next H.E.A.T. meeting is April 14 at 7 p.m., located at 420 S Grand Ave. in Joplin. Chief Furgerson of the Joplin Fire Department and Chief Rowland of the Joplin Police Department will be in attendance to help further plan the type of structure needed to operate the emergency shelter out of.
The group is also planning a local march and party to be held this spring. They plan to walk then have a get together with elements like music, food, haircuts and medical assessments.
“Our guests of honor will be our homeless folks,” said Johnson.
To stay up to date with H.E.A.T. or get involved, join the H.E.A.T. Facebook group.