As 90-degree plus days are becoming commonplace this summer, so too are the increasing numbers of homeless individuals seeking assistance from Boonville's Harvest House. With the heat comes an increase in utility costs and, sometimes, an inability to meet rent obligations.
"Winter and summer both see an increase in the homeless population around here. Utility bills go up and people can't make ends meet. We see more numbers on the books in the winter, though, because people have to have a roof over their head. You can survive the summer without a place to stay," said Harvest House manager Heidi Burnett.
Harvest House is funded mostly through the United Way, but also operates on separate grants and donations. In the past two months, the center has seen approximately 20 people come and go through its doors. At 17 individuals, the house is at capacity.
Gauging an accurate number of homeless can be difficult, because within the definition of the word, gray areas abound. Consistent street-living is a far cry from a short period of assistance. Some homeless are put in their position by circumstance, while others are placed there by lifestyle.
"We have people come that are going through divorce or having trouble meeting bills – and then we have people that are truly homeless – street people. There are many people who choose to be homeless. Others are put in that position," said Burnett.
Homelessness is not illegal. Nor is sleeping outdoors.
"Unless trespassing is involved, there's not anything preventing people from sleeping underneath a bridge or outdoors. Some of the people we refer to the shelter are just passing through town and are dealing with a broken-down vehicle. When we get someone who is truly homeless, we'll bring them in, see if they need medical attention and [check criminal records] to make sure they're not wanted," said Boonville Police Chief Bobby Welliver.
If an individual is not wanted, they're referred by the police department to the Harvest House. The Boonville PD typically refers 3-4 people per month.
"There are people that come in and try to take advantage of what we offer – those that are looking for a free handout. But, for the most part, the people that come in really need help – and we're able to help them. We give them a place to live and help them find work to get back on their feet," said Burnett.