Nonprofit organization AM Housing may have found a location for a Kirksville homeless shelter, founder Glenn Moritz announced Thursday at a fundraising banquet.
After conducting an online fundraising campaign with the goal of purchasing a building, Moritz told supporters a house is currently under contract that he hopes to use as a shelter.
Moritz said the organization was approximately $25,000 shy of its goal to be able to purchase the home outright and expected to raise about $4,000 at the banquet. Moritz said the building is large enough to house 15 to 30 people.
The next step for AM Housing, if the purchase is finalized, will be speaking to Kirksville’s Planning and Zoning Commission and City Council to obtain permission to open the shelter. Moritz said he is waiting until the purchase is finalized to share the building’s location, but it is close to the city’s downtown district.
Moritz thanked supporters of the organization for attending the event and said it was amazing how much AM Housing had grown over the past year.
“Everything is so much bigger and better this year than last year,” Moritz said.
One speaker at the banquet was Kirksville resident Genetta Sevits, whose interest in the organization comes from a personal place. For two years as a teenager, Sevits was homeless after losing both of her parents, her mother when she was a year old and her father when she was 16.
Sevits spent some time bouncing between the homes of family members, but they were unwelcoming and, in some cases, unsafe. The better option, she decided, was to finish high school while living out of her car.
“This was in the days before (the Department of Family Services) and foster care stepped in on all of these situations,” Sevits said. “I had a car. I had a few part-time jobs. I was going to school. And what I do know now is that a resource like a homeless shelter kept me out of that car. I will fully admit that it was partially my choice to be homeless, but just because you have a roof over your head doesn’t mean you are in a safe place or a healthy place.”
Sevits said she fought hard to get out of her situation, but made mistakes, including an abusive marriage, because “choices were taken away from me at that age.” Now, she is married again and has three children and a stable life. She was even able to “pay it forward,” she said, by adopting a girl who was abandoned as an infant.
“There is hope, but at the time I didn’t have hope,” Sevits said. “Somewhere to go that was safe to shower, where you didn’t have to worry about who was peeking in on you, or who could hurt you in that situation — these are just things in a young girl’s life that she should never have to deal with.”
Sevits said she was passionate about Moritz’s work and urged people not to make the mistake of thinking Kirksville does not have a problem with homelessness just because it is a small community.
“I grew up in a town a fraction the size of Kirksville, and I was one of two homeless people at the time,” Sevits said. “I know there is a great need in Kirksville.”
Jenn Vaughn, who works as a social worker in the Children’s Division of the Missouri Department of Social Services, also spoke at the event.
“Homelessness is so much more prevalent in Kirksville and the surrounding community than we would like to admit,” Vaughn said.
Vaughn specializes in trying to keep at-risk families together, something she said is difficult if there is not a local shelter for the homeless. She also said many people express concerns that the addition of a homeless shelter will make their community less safe, but that concern is misguided.
“For all of these families that don’t have that basic need met, that they don’t have just that little bit of safety and reassurance to go home to, we can bet on having bigger problems,” Vaughn said. “We can bet on having more crime, we can bet on having more social and substance abuse problems. I cannot advocate enough for this program.”
Carla Potts is the deputy director for housing development programs at the nonprofit North East Community Action Corporation, which covers 12 Missouri counties. Her work involves finding housing for people in need, including many homeless veterans. Potts also said the need for housing is greater than many people realize.
“So many people live so close to the edge,” Potts said. “They work hard and play by the rules, and yet they’re a paycheck away from homelessness.”
Another speaker, Dr. John Gaal, echoed that message. “I think it’s a shame that we’re, in the richest nation in the world, having to talk about this issue,” Gaal said.
Gaal works with the St. Louis program Shower to the People, an organization that provides showers and hygiene products to local homeless people in a converted box truck. The nonprofit is working to expand to 20 cities nationwide and has started a new program to allow homeless people to wash their clothes for free in local laundromats.
Gaal said his work with the homeless was inspired in large part by the death of his son, John Gaal Jr. After his son’s death, Gaal said, he found out that he had stopped every day on his way to work in Columbia to hand out peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to the local homeless population.
“He was a person who really cared, well beyond my understanding,” Gaal said.
After his son’s death, Gaal became much more involved in volunteer work. He said he believes society has an obligation to help veterans, ex-offenders and others who need a place to live.
“One person isn’t going to solve this problem. This is going to take a collaborative effort,” Gaal said.
Moritz also spoke about his son, Andrew Moritz, the organization’s namesake. He said the generosity and positivity his son displayed throughout his life and battle with cancer inspire AM Housing’s work.
“I make every attempt to model my life after him at this point,” Moritz said. “Today would have been his 41st birthday. Thank you, Andrew.”