New York Times Reminds Everyone What a Sh*thole Branson Is

Little affordable housing combined with low-wage jobs has left many workers homeless or living in motels

Jun 19, 2023 at 9:20 am
click to enlarge Branson offers a popular Christian entertainment district in the Ozarks. Here is a Mount Rushmore with John Wayne, Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe and Charlie Chaplin.
Branson offers a popular Christian entertainment district in the Ozarks. Here is a "Mount Rushmore" in the city with John Wayne, Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe and Charlie Chaplin.

The New York Times reminded everyone that Branson has an outsized homelessness and poverty problem on Saturday. An article about Elevate Branson, a nonprofit working to get Branson's low-income workforce affordable transportation to their jobs, included this startling statistic:

"By some estimates, close to 20 percent of the people living in Branson are homeless or staying in motels. They are workers and drivers, service industry strivers and worn-down honky-tonkers, some struggling with addiction, some raising children under trying circumstances."

Well, the statistic is only surprising for folks who missed Jackie Rehwald's reporting in the Springfield News-Leader about homelessness and poverty in Branson before and during the pandemic.

According to Rehwald, the issues with homelessness got worse in Branson when "city officials started cracking down on extended-stay motel owners a few years ago, requiring them to pass annual health, fire and building code inspections in order to stay open. The city closed a handful of motels and several more decided to close on their own rather than make improvements."

click to enlarge A bust of Ronald Regan in Branson, Missouri.
A bust of Ronald Regan in Branson, Missouri.
The issue is that Branson doesn't have much affordable housing for low-wage workers near its entertainment strip, which is where most of the jobs are. Many workers can't afford transportation if they live farther away, and public transit options are scarce in the city. Closing the motels reduced affordable housing options.

Branson won't address the homelessness issue, according to the New York Times, because city leaders don't want to ruin Branson's image. The city is known throughout the Midwest (and beyond) for its Christian entertainment district.

The homelessness statistics that were used in the New York Times article don't even come from the city. They came from Bryan and Amy Stallings, who founded Elevate Branson (formerly Jesus Was Homeless), and base their numbers on grant applications and the number of people they feed through the nonprofit's meal program. There are roughly 2,500 homeless or extend-stay motel residents in Branson, according to the New York Times. The total population is 12,883 people.

The New York Times article was about how Elevate Branson is trying to help Branson residents who have to live miles away from their job and can't afford transportation get scooters to travel to and from work on. The scooters cost no money down and there is no credit check to get them. The program has not attracted too many people so far, fewer than 20, according to the New York Times. But the paper suggests, with widespread adoption, Branson could become a little Ho Chi Minh City in the Ozarks — scooters everywhere.

Which, frankly, sounds like a marked improvement. Branson has long been weird as hell, and these days it sounds pretty desperate too.  A few thousand scooters can only help.

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