SPRINGFIELD – The Springfield City Council heard a presentation about White Bird’s outreach efforts in meeting basic needs of Springfield’s unhoused individuals, connecting them with relevant services, building trusting relationships and empowering them. The meeting took place Oct. 26.

White Bird began its contract with the City of Springfield on May 25, after the Stay Home, Save Lives order to provide outreach to the unhoused population and to prevent or slow the community spread. The current contract ends on Nov. 30, 2020. 

Alex Farmer, front rooms coordinator, said they supported unhoused community members through the pandemic by providing: information on how to stay safe and healthy during COVID-19, necessary shelter-in-place materials, COVID-19 health screenings, information and referrals to community resources and evaluations of client needs.

So far, they have had 656 individual encounters, 204 referrals to their organization and other community services and provided 112 COVID-19 screenings; all of which were negative.

White Bird is a collective environment organized to empower people to gain control of their social, emotional and physical well-being through direct service, education and community, according to its website.  

The outrace teams consist of two trained white bird staff on Monday through Friday shifts. Their schedules are variable to meet the needs of clients, and their focus is to provide a trauma-informed approach to their interactions and meet people “where they are.”

Councilor Marilee Woodrow asked Farmer if he thought the contract should extend past November. Farmer said he sees the benefits of both White Bird and their other program, CAHOOTS (crisis assistance helping out on the streets.)

“We have a more focused approach and we spend more time (with clients),” he said.

Woodrow said that she saw the long-range benefit as well and if there’s an opportunity to continue beyond current funding she would be interested. 

Councilor Leonard Stoehr asked about what White Bird will do with sheltering, because they don’t run a shelter. Farmer explained that any client experiencing COVID-19 symptoms will be sent to the River Avenue Shelter. 

“Shelter is a big topic, especially going into winter,” he said, adding that in the past White Bird has put up huts around town, but they don’t have a large shelter program. Instead, they put clients in contact with other housing resources in the area.

“We’re recognizing that people in unsheltered locations need access to supplies and information to stay in their current place and protect themselves and the public,” Farmer said. 

SPD Chief Lewis presents ‘8 Can’t Wait’

program to council members 

Springfield Police Chief Richard Lewis explained to the Springfield City Council on Nov. 2 how the “8 Can’t Wait” campaign is being introduced into his department. 

All SPD officers must get recertified annually in Use of Force training, and “8 Can’t Wait” is part of this year’s training. 

Lewis cautions, however, that officers still will have discretion when it comes to handling certain dangerous situations. 

“Anytime you’re trying to protect yourself, or protect others, or to prevent an escape, that could be a case where you would need a firearm,” Lewis said. 

“You use the amount of force to objectively deal with situations. And ask yourself, would other officers, with the same amount of training, have done the same thing in the same situation?

“We’re asking our officers to make difficult decisions in microseconds.”

The “8 Can’t Wait” movement is a national police reform effort started by Campaign Zero after the killing of George Floyd.