Special to OI by Madalyn Tuning, Nixa Student Journalism
Most would assume Nixa didn’t have a problem with homeless considering the stereotype of the city being fairly affluent, however there are families and students struggling in the community.
“A lot of times you won’t know who they are because they don’t want to be known,” Homeless Liaison for Nixa Public Schools Rita Coburn said. “How could you know without being in their face? I think the main thing is to be accepting of anybody.”
While a sense of shame often surrounds homelessness, setting up a solid foundation with someone who is struggling will open them up to help.
“You won’t know who they are, but be accepting of knowing they possibly could have a tough life,” Coburn said. “They’re not going to come to you and say, ‘Hey, I’m homeless.’ If you go to them and say, ‘Hey, do you need anything? I’m cleaning out my closet, let me give you some clothes.’ It’s so critical anymore because you don’t want to insult them. Be understanding and kind.”
The Nixa School District provides help for its struggling families.
“My main job is, when families enroll and they are homeless — literally homeless — like living in a shelter, or living in a car, or living in a hotel, and the homeless people that are doubled up — that means they are living with other family members due to economic hardship — the first thing I do is to make sure we find them,” Coburn said. “Once I contact them, and they are truly qualified — fit the homeless category — then I will provide them with whatever they need.”
The school system strives to work as a whole to ensure the wellbeing of students who are struggling in their home lives.
“I expect the same from teachers,” Coburn said. “If kids come in and they don’t have their homework done maybe it’s because they didn’t sleep all night, they’re tired or they’re dirty. Maybe their homelife is just so horrid. Just have compassion.”
There are many factors that lead to homelessness.
“They’re kicked out,” Coburn said. “They’re foreclosed on. They’re not paying a bill, so the landlord tells them they need to leave and they have no place to go. Divorce. Abuse. We have women who end up in the shelter in Ozark and their kids continue here and we provide transportation. We have parents leaving their kids, literally — they’re incarcerated. Any possible situation you can think of.”
Students with imprisoned parents often live with their grandparents. Students sometimes depend on school for a safe place.
“Domestic violence can be a factor in homelessness in that people can become homeless due to domestic violence because they don’t feel safe in their homes,” Harmony House Volunteer Coordinator Ivy Shelden said.
Harmony House will take anyone, no matter their county or state as long as they are survivors of domestic violence. They have a program with three outreach case-managers that help those who need other assistance.
“Harmony House is the largest domestic violence shelter in the state of Misosuri,” Shelden said. “We provide shelter, education and advocacy for survivors of domestic violence. Domestic violence is emotional, physical, sexual abuse by an intimate parnter.
Harmony House can provide an emergency shelter for 90 days, but they can stay longer depending on the circumstance. They have had families stay for up to six months. They offer three meals a day, as well as clothing, hygiene products, child care, court advocacy, case management and legal services.
While it is temporarily closed due to COVID-19, Abundant Blessings in Nixa offers help.
“We provide clothing and shoes free of charge for children that are either in need for a difficult financial situation or foster children or children who are in the care of a kinship family member — like a grandmother or an aunt — if they’ve been removed from their homes,” Executive Director of Abundant Blessings Ashtyn Fischer said. “We really try to boost their dignity and self esteem.”
Abundant Blessings looks similar to a boutique where children can go in, try on clothes, and pick out what they want. Whole families come in or parents shop for the younger children. Teenagers have more freedom to pick out what they like.
“It’s a really fun way for them to get to shop and not have to worry about the cost of clothing,” Fischer said.
Abundant Blessings helps the homeless population and others who struggle in the community by allowing those in need to shop in their store once a quarter.
“We are just getting started and kind of dipping our toes into the world of homelessness, you could say,” Fischer said. “We’re educating ourselves a lot right now…That I know of, we’ve probably served a dozen that are homeless children. There could be significantly more and we just haven’t asked that question when they are checking in.”
They have helped mothers who are presiding in a women’s shelter find clothing for their children. Citizens living in hotels or with another family also shop through their organization.
“I anticipate going to the Homeless Alliance meetings to learn a lot more about how we can make sure that the homeless families in our community are aware that we’re a resource,” Fischer said. “It’s kind of new territory for us.”
The first homeless account she knows of is a woman who had been getting clothes for her children after leaving a domestic violence situation. Abundant Blessings wants to create partnerships with local shelters.
“Sometimes the women are in the position where they don’t feel safe leaving that space,” Fischer said. “There have been a couple of times where I have gotten a list of the childrens’ needs for the actual facility and brought things to them so those women don’t have to leave that space. I am hoping that in the years to come we can solidify a more flourishing relationship with the shelter facilities in our area.”
Harmony House is a shelter that provides connections to other organizations. They have 168 beds, so they can only admit people based on capacity.
“We usually have a few more kids than we adults because it’s usually a single parent with multiple children,” Shelden said. “When our shelter is on the full side, we generally have around 50 adults and up to 60 children.”
Safe to Sleep, The Kitchen and Victory Mission + Ministry are homeless shelters that Harmony House works with to help those who are struggling to find a place to be secure.
Families do not need to provide birth certificates or shot records to be enrolled into school if they are homeless. Students who are homeless are also immediately enrolled in the free and reduced program so they can have two meals at school no charge.
“Even if you have, for instance a family in the Nixa district that becomes homeless, they’re in a district they go to Mathews and maybe to the junior high and they’re evicted for whatever reason — maybe they have a house fire,” Coburn said. “They have to go to, say, Ozark to stay in a hotel or they go move with family members within close proximity. Then I contact them to let them know that the kids can continue to stay here. It’s just to give the kids that stability. That is the big piece: That stability for the children.”
With the threat of the virus in our community, homelessness has not significantly increased at all, however another worry strikes.
“One concern that I have is with abuse victims,” Coburn said. “I am hoping that they are not staying in their situations because they feel that they have no place to go.
Establishments that focus on domestic abuse, like Harmony House, are also worried about those in danger not being able to leave for a safer place.
“We partner with Greene County and [they have] put in place more hotel places and opportunities for the homeless to feel more safe,” Coburn said.
(Article originally published on the Nixa Student Journalism website.)