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Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2008 11:45 pm

“Harsh and inhumane”

Springfield continues a dialogue on homelessness

Earl Wilson keeps an eye on the streets.
Untitled Document Lafayette Glenn, a large man who stands more than 6 feet tall, says that people assume, because of his stature, that finding steady work is easy for him. But the reality, he says, is that his ex-felon status closes most doors before he can get one of his massive feet in them — and the manual-labor jobs that he is able to get are scarce in the wintertime. “‘Homeless’ is a harsh and inhumane word. I’m doing everything I can to get out of that ‘homeless’ label,” says Glenn, who has been without a permanent residence since his release from prison more than two years ago. Glenn was one of five panelists who shared their stories of living on the streets of Springfield at the First Presbyterian Church on Monday. They talked about the need for additional services such as an overflow shelter after the Salvation Army closes the SOS at the end of March, as well as a day center and more permanent housing units. Barb Olson, a volunteer from Homeless United for Change, a group of homeless individuals and advocates, organized the meeting to address the holes in care that aren’t covered by the patchwork of strained and poorly funded local service agencies. Close to 100 Springfield residents attended. Olson says recommendations from the meeting will be distributed to local agencies, as well as city officials. Earl Wilson, who also sat on the panel, says the real issue is not how people come to be homeless but why are they still homeless. As reminders, he carries several binders containing journal entries written on dozens of tiny paper scraps and newspaper clippings about the deaths of local homeless people, many of whom he knew.
“You’re walking around seeing these people every day, and you get attached to them. These people become part of your life,” he says. He says that a funeral home built recently in the medical district, near the Washington Street Mission and St. John’s Breadline — where many homeless people begin the day — occupies what would have been a perfect location for a shelter or day oasis. Meanwhile, homeless folks in the audience emphasized the need for more services. One man said he’d undergone three surgeries recently but couldn’t afford the drugs his doctor prescribed, making it harder to heal. Another man described homelessness in Springfield as “nothing” compared to that in larger cities, telling the crowd: “If we don’t stand together, we’ll never beat this problem.”
Mark Jasmon, who has been sleeping at the SOS, says the situation there is getting out of hand, citing frequent clashes between residents. “The mayor needs to do something and help the homeless people in this town,”
Jasmon says.

Contact R.L. Nave at rnave@illinoistimes.com.
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