COLUMBIA – The Boone County Commission met Thursday to address inequality in mid-Missouri.
“We have had an amazing amount of collaboration with agencies working together with a common goal,” said Boone County commissioner Fred Parry.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the 14 percent poverty rate in Missouri is higher than the national poverty rate of 12.7 percent. Boone County has one of the highest poverty rates in mid-Missouri listing, at 17 percent.
Human Services Manager at Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services Steve Hollis said the community is trying to decrease those numbers.
“The situation that we have is that across the country, poverty and inequality are growing and that’s coupled at the same time with diminishing resources from federal and state government,” he said. “More and more local communities are having to solve their own issues with less resources.”
Commissioner Daniel Atwill said the commission and agencies working together has helped everyone involved save money.
Hollis said, “This has been proven to be cheaper for taxpayers, simply keeping people out of jails and off the streets is absolutely cheaper."
According to Missourians to End Poverty, there are six factors that affect poverty: economic and family security, education, food and nutrition, health, and housing and energy.
Director of Crisis Services at Burrel Behavioral Health Carisa Kessler said outreach, access and recovery helps any form of poverty.
“We find individuals who are homeless or who are at risk of homelessness and are able to connect them to social security or disability benefits, which then is used for obtaining housing for them,” she said.
Steve Hollis said the main reason for the meeting was to celebrate the accomplishments of the Stepping Up Initiative. The Initiative is a national effort led locally by Boone County government, along with multiple partners. The goal is to reduce the number of people with mental illnesses in jails.
The initiative also focuses on mental health as the leading cause of homelessness. Hollis said the program coincides with homelessness and poverty.
“The driver of this effort is to really decriminalize mental health and at the same time we are trying to decriminalize homelessness. That intersectionality has led to a lot of joint efforts to address both of those populations which tend to overlap,” he said.
Hollis said the county is currently working on a list of known homeless people. According to Hollis, the list has gotten smaller in recent years. The county has also used it to help homeless people find housing.