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COLUMBIA - Nearly 100 community members gathered in Columbia Wednesday night at Cafe Berlin for a discussion about area homelessness and what is being done to combat it. 

Not only did local experts speak about what agencies in mid-Missouri are doing to help those in need of housing, but Bill Gordon, a Vietnam veteran who was homeless in Columbia 20 years ago, also spoke about his experiences and how every day citizens can help. 

"Share what you can whether it’s resources, finances, talent, labor," Gordon said during his speech. "We have so much to share, if only a smile."

Roberts eventually came to Columbia in his 50's, but despite an impressive resumé, was not able to get a job and ran out of money. He depended on United Way to help him get work and relied on housing from Welcome Home, a homeless veteran shelter that just opened a new facility this year

The discussion, hosted by KBIA, also featured Steve Hollis of Boone County Health and Human Services and Sarah Froese of the Truman VA, who spoke about the state of homelessness in the county. 

"Since January 2016, when we really started to prioritize housing to the highest risk folks, we have housed 267 literally homeless persons," Hollis said. "267 people that were chronically homeless. That is in less than two years."

Hollis also said he was optimistic about the future of homelessness in the county. 

"Homelessness is just a symptom of, typically, mental health issues or lack of income and affordable housing," Hollis said. "Those are things we can fix. We feel like this is an issue where we can actually reach that functional zero."

To do that, as Hollis and Froese both pointed out, there needs to be access to much more affordable housing in Columbia. 

The discussion Wednesday night came on the same say the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development released its 2017 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress.

The report found that homelessness in the state went down more than two percent last year, and more than 25 percent since 2010. But, there's still plenty of work to do according to Hollis and Froese. 

Boone County does have the highest numbers for homelessness in Missouri, but experts say much of that has to do with the resources that are available for children, men, women and veterans in the county.

Gordon said he was very impressed with the turnout on Wednesday night, saying it shows how seriously Columbia citizens take homelessness. 

"It’s so inspiring to me to see this many people across the economic spectrum are interested in this, so that’s very encouraging," he said. "Homelessness is at the forefront of many of these peoples minds and that’s very encouraging to me."

In addition, Gordon said more communities should be having conversations like the one in Columbia because of how it can affect so many people. 

"Most of these people will go out the door looking for opportunities to share, or share more, or share a smile at the very least," he said. “It begins that domino effect. Paying it forward, is paid forward ten more times, is paid forward 100 more times and that will create the greater good that improves the quality of life for every citizen.”

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