On Wednesday, Jan. 24, a team spanning six Northeast Missouri counties to shared resources for people at risk of homelessness.

A family huddled inside their car in a shopping center parking lot.

A man camping in a tent near the riverfront.

The couple ducking inside a local convenience store to escape the winter chill.

People in Hannibal and the surrounding region have been grappling with homelessness for years, and Wednesday, Jan. 24 marked a team effort spanning six Northeast Missouri counties to share resources for people at risk of homelessness or dealing with homelessness. Dr. LeAndra Bridgeman, Ralls County Service Coordinator with Northeast Community Action Corporation (NECAC), joined Mike Blase, Housing Stability Coordinator with Douglass Community Services, and Michelle Hastings with Preferred Family Healthcare as they packed up informational flyers, hats, gloves, scarves and loaded backpacks for the Point in Time homeless count — part of the Missouri Governor’s Committee to End Homelessness. Volunteers from area agencies worked together throughout the day to visit places where people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless might be — area caves, convenience stores, the Admiral Coontz Recreation Center, banks, post offices, laundromats, YMCAs — to share resources for immediate housing assistance and utility and rent assistance.

Bridgeman said the annual Point in Time ties into the Missouri Housing Development Commission Balance of State Continuum of Care — the agency connects folks in Missouri’s 101 rural counties to resources and information through various local agencies. She said the day’s goals was to estimate how many homeless individuals live in the region so the those regional groups could help make a positive impact with the Governor’s Committee to End Homelessness.

“I think they choose January, because in the summertime you would see a lot of people camping,” Bridgeman said. “If you see someone camping in January — they’re probably homeless — whereas in the summer, it would be very difficult to tell who is camping because they need to and don’t want to.”

In the morning hours, Bridgeman visited rest areas along Highway 79 and followed up on reports of people living in local caves. She hadn’t encountered anyone yet, but she knew for certain that the issue was prevalent in the area.

She said people have come into her Ralls County office who had sought refuge in caves during the region’s recent cold snap. On Wednesday, the team of volunteers spent the entire day looking to reach out to homeless people and post information to help anyone in need — they visited truck stops, libraries, churches, grocery stores and other locations throughout Region 2 — which encompasses Lewis, Marion, Monroe, Pike, Ralls and Shelby counties.

The Balance of State Region 2 Coordinated Entry program offered “a springboard into stability,” Blase said. For example, people who are “couch-surfing” or living with family members could benefit from utility or rent assistance offered through agencies like NECAC and DCS. He said he works on writing two different grants that can help people who are at risk of becoming homeless.

Bridgeman and Blase agreed that several of the programs can’t provide an immediate solution for folks experiencing the dire situation pf homelessness — Blase said a dedicated shelter in the Hannibal area would be extremely beneficial. Bridgeman said there is also a “lack of affordable, decent housing” in the region. Rodney Foust, of Hannibal, agreed.

“We need a shelter bad here in Hannibal,” he said, noting he felt there weren’t enough available jobs in Hannibal with the recent shuttering of the Buckhorn and Cosmoflex facilities.

Bridgeman said people who are truly homeless are at the top of waiting lists for affordable housing. Blase noted MHDC’s “Housing First” is a directive that says “for people to have success, they first have to have housing.”

“That’s the first thing we need to address when he help people —giving them stable housing, so that then they can build from there — become stable, get to appointments, help provide a home for their children and families — so that’s the model that we use with through the Missouri Housing Development Commission,” Bridgeman said.

Blase said he writes grants through MHDC, including the one-time Emergency Solutions grant and the renewable Missouri Housing Trust Fund Grant. He said he is limited to two counties when he applies for the grants, so he concentrates on Marion and Ralls counties because Hannibal covers both areas.

“There’s a finite amount of money that’s available,” Blase said. “So you’ve got to be really direct on what your goal is.”

As Blase, Bridgeman and Hastings set out for their first destination of the afternoon at the Hannibal Free Public Library, they joined groups covering as many corners of the region as possible — each person had the same goal in mind.

“The end goal is to reach out to the community, and make the community aware of what resources are available for people who are literally homeless — in as wide an area as possible, so we can reach those people — and also to collect information on people who are literally homeless in the region, if we can find them.”

To find out more about how local and state programs aimed at helping homeless people and those who are at risk, please contact DCS at http://www.douglassonline.org or 573-221-3892, NECAC at https://necac.orgor 800-748-7636 or MHDC at http://www.mhdc.com or 800-246-7973.

Reach reporter Trevor McDonald at trevor.mcdonald@courierpost.com