Councilperson Andrea Waner wants to use American Rescue Plan Act funds to address homelessness, community violence and mental health issues in Boone County.

Waner outlined her plans at Friday’s Muleskinners meeting. The ARPA funds amount to about $25 million, with $12.5 million already awarded to the city. How and where to allocate the money has been the subject of much debate among Columbia residents.

Waner’s suggestions are based on the Community Health Improvement Plan, which was launched in 2019 to address and improve health in Boone County residents. Surveys and other data collection methods were used to research issues, and Waner is looking to employ those methods in the ARPA funding process.

She went on to present statistics about various prevailing social issues in Boone County:

  • About 18% of Boone County was in poverty, compared to 14% of Missouri, from 2015 to 2019, according to American Community Service data.
  • More than 200 deaths of despair were reported in Boone County from 2014 to 2018, according to the CDC National Vital Statistics System. Waner described deaths of despair as due to medical conditions related to bleak socioeconomic circumstances: drug overdoses, alcoholic liver disease and suicide fall into this category.
  • More than 360 violent crimes per 100,000 people were committed in Boone County in 2021, according to County Health Rankings.

With months of public comments and statistics to back up their concerns, Waner believes the city can act now with the current $12.5 million it has.

“I think we could and should,” Waner said.

The other half of the money is expected to arrive in March 2022. Waner presented a detailed timeline of how she would like to decide the fate of those funds.

In October, Waner wants to have meetings identifying who will be spoken to and what they should be asked to determine exact issues. In November and December, she wants to have community focus groups in each ward.

Because many voices go unheard, Waner said she is willing to provide child care and a meal for those typically unable to attend meetings.

Clinical psychologist Martha Brownlee-Duffeck suggested going door to door to survey residents who otherwise would not attend a meeting or take the time to fill out a survey. Waner agreed and said there was space for both types of outreach.

In January, Waner would move on to assessing data before developing proposals in February. The rest of the funds are expected in March, so the council would vote on proposals then. After approval, the council would implement plans and evaluate the impact.

Both Waner and fellow councilperson Karl Skala, who also attended the meeting, voiced support for hiring outside consultants. Waner said taking on this kind of research project would be a “full-time gig for six months at least.”

Steve Calloway, a member of the Columbia Housing Authority’s Board of Commissioners, asked if there was room for public housing in the budget. Waner agreed that public housing plays an integral role in giving people steps after homelessness.

“We can spend this money very quickly. There is no shortage of applicable needs,” Waner said.

Skala and Waner assured those at the meeting they plan to discuss spending on these issues with other council members.

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