With subfreezing temperatures across the Lake of the Ozarks region, a local church says they wanted to share God’s love through not just words, but action.
Tree 197 church in Camdenton, Mo. last week opened their doors to allow homeless persons to sleep in their church from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. Tree 197 also supplies bedding, food, and warm coats.
“Homelessness can be dangerous in these temperatures,” Tree 197 church member Jessica Chancellor said. Staying out in the cold and wind too long can cause frostbite. The risk increases as air temperature falls below 5 F (minus 15 C), even with low wind speeds, according to the Mayo Clinic. Complications of frostbite can include infection, gangrene, hypothermia, and even death. “Making sure they are warm is of the utmost importance,” Chancellor stressed.
“People do not understand the immensity of the homeless situation here at the Lake,” Chancellor said. “Many think of the Lake of the Ozarks as this beautiful resort area, with million-dollar lakefront homes. But we have a community of hidden homeless. You do not see them on sidewalks living in a cardboard box, like in the city. Many of these families live off the radar. Our homeless live in tents in the woods, in campgrounds, in storage units and other inadequate shelters.”
Chancellor is employed by the Camdenton R-III School District as a School Home Coordinator, where she assists students and their families who are living in substandard living conditions. The program is funded by the McKinney Vento Homeless Assistance Act, which is federal legislation put into place to protect families and children who fall under the federal housing code of homelessness.
This code includes persons who are living in one or all the following conditions:
- Unsheltered living out in the open or on the street, or in parks.
- Living in substandard conditions, in motels, abandoned buildings, with bug infestations, without proper utilities, with holes in the floors or walls, or conditions that may cause discomfort or harm.
- Living in recreational vehicles, cars, converted vans, or other types of vehicles not meant for full-time living.
- Homeless and domestic abuse shelters
- Doubled-up housing situations, where multiple families live together due to economic hardship.
According to Chancellor, there were approximately 400 students federally marked as homeless in the district in 2020. “We have teenagers that hop from house to house,” Chancellor said. “We have many families who cannot make it on their own, so they cohabitate, such as one family living with 10 people in a small two-bedroom apartment.”
According to the Bassuk Center on Homeless and Vulnerable Children & Youth, more families experience homelessness in the United States than in any other industrialized nation. One in 30 American children experience homelessness annually; 51% are under age five.
If a student qualifies under the McKinney Vento Act, the school works to remove barriers to the student’s education. This includes setting up transportation to and from school, free breakfast and lunch, hygiene assistance, and additional resources, as needed, for the student and family. Homelessness is traumatic for children. They are at a greater risk for neglect, sleep disorders, stress related physical illness, anxiety disorders, violence, sexual abuse, and sex trafficking crimes.
A shortage of affordable housing is a perennial issue at the Lake. “For a single mom, earning minimum wage, it is a very real struggle to find safe affordable housing. It used to be $500 would rent a trailer. Now it is $750 to $800, plus $15 a day in electricity costs in the winter. Most of the low-income apartments have a waiting list, and if a family has been evicted within the last seven years, or if they have a criminal record, or they do not qualify for low-income housing, they have few options,” Chancellor explained.
The Lake Area Helping Hands Homeless Shelter is the only homeless shelter at Lake of the Ozarks, and it is full most all the time. One other option is Citizens Against Domestic Violence, but that is open to only abused women and their children. “We sometimes reach out to the bigger city shelters, such as in Jefferson City and Springfield, but they too are facing a rising homelessness population and overcrowding issues,” Chancellor said.
Front Porch Village – Tiny Homes
To meet some of the needs of Lake area homeless, Tree 197 Ministries is building Front Porch Village, a community of 650-to-1,000 sq. ft. homes for homeless families to live in, until they can get back on their feet. The ministry has already purchased approximately seven acres of property, on South Highway 5, that formally held an RV park. The property has concrete pads, septic and electricity.
“We are going to focus on single-parent households first,” Chancellor said. “That will be our jumping off point, as that is the biggest need in our area. We want to assist the single mom making minimum wage, for instance, with three kids, struggling to make ends meet, by helping her with transportation and finding a job and ultimately transitioning into a place of her own.”
The cost per home is estimated to be approximately $25,000 to $50,000, depending on the size. Families that live in these homes will have mentors to assist them with budgeting and other necessary life-skills. “We plan to partner with established agencies, in a whole-community approach, to assist them with a hand-up,” Chancellor said.
She added, “The spiritual side is relational. We must have a relationship with people to ever get to the point of inviting them to the great things that Jesus has for them. We need to love and accept them and have a relationship with them, because Jesus wants to love and accept them, and have a relationship with them too.”
Front Porch Village will also have a multi-purpose, 4,800 sq. ft. community center on the property, with housing quarters for full-time staff. Most of the funds for the center have already been raised. The community center will house a food and clothing pantry, be used to serve meals and be available for community meetings. They hope to break ground on the community center this spring.
“Our heart is for this to be a community effort. It will take everyone working together to come to the rescue of these families. It’s not that they are all bad people,” Chancellor said. “For many, homelessness is a result of bad circumstances that just happened to them.” Front Porch Village representatives are available to speak to businesses, churches, clubs, and individuals who are interested in hearing more about how they can get involved. They are seeking monetary and building material donations, as well as skilled volunteers.
The cold weather may be gone for the moment, but it’s still winter and the need is still great. Tree 197 is accepting donations of food, boots, warm clothing, coats, gloves, scarves and hats.
About Tree 197
Tree 197 comes from the Bible verse 1 Kings 19:7. In this passage, the prophet Elijah sat beneath a tree believing his work for God was done, but God reminded him there was still much to do. Tree 197 Ministries believes that there is a lot of work to be done in the Lake community. Their goal is to build God’s Kingdom, build His church and build the next generation, by loving God and people.
Tree 197 Ministries is located at 826 N. Business Route 5 in Camdenton, Mo. The church offers a breakfast, open to everyone, at 9:30 a.m. on Sunday morning. Their Sunday service is at 10 a.m. Childcare is available. The Next Gen, for grades 7 to 12, meet at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesdays for a free dinner and meeting. The Root Youth Group, for 5th and 6th grade students, meet at 6 p.m. on Thursdays. For additional information, call Pastor Darrin Major at 573-552-5029, visit their Facebook page, or online at tree197.org.