A better place for the disadvantaged
Saturday, April 28, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 7:07 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 14, 2008
Elmer Spencer, a retired veteran, is looking to move into public housing similar to Columbia Housing Authority’s Oak Towers low-income housing apartment complex.

This story has been changed since its original publication. George Clark stopped in Columbia while driving from Los Angeles to New York. The Missourian misidentified Clark’s hometown and destination.

Mid-Missouri wasn’t George Clark’s destination when he set out from New York on a cross-country trip a few years ago, but his vehicle had other ideas.

The 1989 Mitsubishi Precis was bound for New York, when it broke down in Columbia. Clark’s first instinct was to find a place to rest, which he said was relatively easy. “When I came here, I had no money and I was taken in by the St. Francis home,” said Clark, 52.


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St. Francis House, a shelter run by volunteers, provided the food and shelter he needed.

“People open their arms out in Columbia,” he said.

Scott Eads, who’s lived in Columbia for 15 years, agrees. “There are places in Columbia where you can get that help,” he said.

Eads lost a relationship, a car and his home while serving a six-month jail sentence. He had nowhere to go when he got out, so he ended up at New Life. Though he has a full-time job, which he described as the only thing going for him, he said he eats weekday meals at New Life and Saturday meals at the Loaves and Fishes soup kitchen.

Still, Eads and Clark say Columbia should make helping the homeless and people with disabilities learn to help themselves more of a priority.

Clark, who’s lived here for more than six years, would like to see a church open that would offer services to people grappling with drug abuse and rehabilitation, natural disasters, homelessness, and suicidal tendencies.

Clark would start the church if he had the funds, he said. Clark now works in security for 3M during the day; his nights are spent working with adults with disabilities at Newhaven Learning Center’s Carol Houses and Norm Houser’s Community Services. Clark also favors structured programs in homeless shelters and assisted living centers that have a curfew and the expectation that residents are going to work. They offer “more regulation to encourage you to work and become a vital part of society,” he said.

The services provided in Columbia are often funded through private donations and unavailable on weekends. What is needed is a city-run shelter that’s open weekdays and weekends, giving people a place to go when the weather is bad, he said.

Eads said that the way things are going for him now, he’s unsure of what the future holds.

Catherine Snyder also struggles with an uncertain future.

Working what seems like full-time hours in the meat department at Patricia’s Foods has left the part-time employee without health insurance. She’s been without insurance since January.

“(The) lower-middle class doesn’t get help” with health costs because they’re just dollars above the cut-off for Medicaid, but they don’t earn enough income to buy their own health coverage, Snyder said.

“People who don’t have money are left behind,” she said.

It’s up to the city to educate them and churches should try to help, Snyder said.

Also some disabled residents work part-time — not because they don’t want full-time jobs, but because their health insurance won’t cover all of their medical needs if they earn more money.

Bob Pund, an MU alumnus who uses a wheelchair, said the cost of keeping his personal assistant wouldn’t be covered by insurance if he worked full-time.

But there’s more than money at stake; a feeling of self-worth that comes through working full-time is also essential. Homer Page, who is blind, said a program that allows people with disabilities to work full-time but doesn’t penalize them with inadequate health insurance is needed. In addition to providing financial freedom to the disabled, the program would create more revenue in the community and possibly boost Columbia’s economy, Page said.

Affordable health care and housing for older citizens should also be a priority, other residents say.

“Instead of spending a lot of money on parks, (the city) should have more things targeting seniors such as a bigger senior center (and) more assisted care facilities,” said Frank Oneken, 76. “We have some good ones but they are always filled up and we need more. Also, a lot of them out there are private-owned and it would be good if the city could offer some services that are not so expensive.”

A senior village created by the city would be nice, H.E. Wilkerson said.

Richard Westley, 70, thinks Columbia could set itself apart from other cities through its health care services.

“I think Columbia is great as it is, but maybe they need better health care,” he said. “I mean, the cost of living is reasonable but health care is what they should be famous for in 25 years.”

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