Tommy Bartoziski

    Tommy Bartoziski panhandles at the corner of U.S. 65 and Main Street in Branson earlier this year.

    I often hear “because of the non-profits giving away free stuff, homeless people are flocking to Branson.” You don't know how ridiculous of a statement this is. We actually have very little in the way of sustainable resources in Branson for someone to come here based on the services of non-profits.

    Our experience in numerous conversations with people is that they come here for two reasons. The first, is jobs. They hear that Branson is full of jobs but they don't realize that they are seasonal and low wage jobs. Typically they come here on their last nickel and find out it is going to take a long time to climb out of the hole they are in at $8-$9 an hour. The second reason we hear they come to Branson is for a fresh start, to get away from an unhealthy environment (possibly family or friends). Again, thinking there are lots of jobs to get that fresh start.

    When you think of resources one needs for sustainability Springfield is much more equipped than Branson.

    Transportation System - Branson desperately needs some form of transportation as cab fare from one end of the strip to the other can be as much as $10 each way. Springfield has the City Utilities bus system. Not the greatest but it can get you all around the city.

    Affordable Housing - Branson does have some affordable housing but most of it is located away from the strip, or jobs. With a lack of transportation it forces folks into the motels at an average rate of $500 per month. The affordable housing in Branson typically starts between $500-$600 plus utilities so it quickly prices out an $8 an hour service worker. Currently there are no organizations in Branson that provide any type of rental assistance for those living in motels. There are however a limited amount of funds to help someone acquire an apartment or keep their existing housing but again very limited. Springfield on the other hand has much more low income housing, including section 8 and assisted rental programs through organizations like the Kitchen.

    Employment & Wages - Branson has lots of employment opportunities but unfortunately most of those opportunities are seasonal and less than $10 per hour. Currently 29 percent of children in Taney County are living at or below the poverty line. Springfield has a much broader base of employment opportunities including manufacturing, third shift and year-round.

    In my opinion and my experience, I have yet to speak with someone in need that has told me they came to Branson because of the "free stuff" and if that was the only reason, they came they would not make it too long with no shelter, no housing opportunity and no transportation to get the “free stuff.”

    What's The Answer? - Jesus Was Homeless is providing a much needed quality workforce through it's Jobs for Life program. 74 percent of Jobs for Life Graduates are working full-time and 55 percent of Jobs for Life Graduates that started the program either homeless or living in a motel have moved to permanent housing. When dignity and value are restored through work, people become assets to the community and begin to climb the economic ladder.

    So even if people are flocking to Branson for "free stuff", if we can then funnel them to Jobs for Life we will see not only a qualified workforce but more tax payers and customers as well for our community.

    If you are thief, quit stealing, instead use your hands for good work, and then give generously to others in need. - Ephesians 4:28

    For more information visit www.jesuswashomeless.org  call 417.335.9915.

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