Fate Uncertain For City's Center For Health And Housing

Oct 2, 2019

The fate of a proposed medical clinic and emergency shelter to serve Springfield’s homeless and low-income residents is in doubt. Mayor Jim Langfelder is now trying to rebuild support for the project after council members publicly criticized him for what they call “lack of leadership.”

The Springfield NAACP has threatened legal action to block the center’s location on the corner of 11th and Edwards, and a major partner in the project, Memorial Health System, has temporarily pulled their support as talks continue. A selling point for the center was the medical and mental health services to be made available under one roof.

Langfelder is convening a meeting Wednesday afternoon – and it’s unclear who will attend, but he said everyone, including Helping Hands and NAACP representatives were invited.

At Tuesday’s city council meeting, Langfelder decided not to veto the zoning ordinance, which the council approved 8-2 last month. Instead, he’s withholding his signature to allow more time for discussions.

“As I stated before, I ask that Helping Hands and the funding organizations come to the table with all stakeholders, this way we can work together in finding the best solution,” he said.

Ward 2 Ald. Shawn Gregory, who voted against the plan and who represents the east side neighborhood where the center would go, said he’s not confident about reaching common ground if the plan is set to go forward in the current location.

“I don’t know if I can budge either one of those people that are very upset about this on any other way,” Gregory said of constituents who have brought their concerns to him.

He said someone will have to make a “big boy” decision if something will be done about homelessness in Springfield this year.

Many residents who live near the proposed location have been against the plan since Helping Hands, the non-profit group leading the project, held a town hall meeting in late July. Residents said they are not against the idea to help the city’s homeless, but they do oppose the center’s location, which would be too close to a child care center.

Residents said they would have worked with Helping Hands in finding a location, but they say they were not approached about the project until a location had already been chosen.

The lack of support from community members and groups like the NAACP prompted Memorial Health System to reconsider their involvement. In a statement, the medical group said they continue to support the concept and could return to the project as soon as the community agrees on a final location and addresses pending concerns.

“We are eager to partner with Helping Hands to bring to fruition their vision to serve the needs of our homeless population. However, that vision must be one that has the support of our entire community,” the statement said.

Ward 5 Ald. Andrew Proctor took to Facebook earlier in the week to express his discontent, and said “failure in leadership has gotten us inaction.”

Langfelder countered Tuesday, saying his leadership style allows for more people to express their opinions and work through issues without his involvement. But, he said, with the Center for Health and Housing, he would have gotten involved much earlier if he’d known how divisive the issue would become.

“It’s totally different if you are engaged, totally—100 percent in a process—and at this one I wasn’t.”

Erica Smith, executive director for Helping Hands, said she’s working with the Helping Hands board to decide how to move forward.

The delay in the project also means the city is scrambling to get a winter emergency shelter, located at 1015 E. Madison, ready by November 1.