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New legislation criminalizes unauthorized tenting, impacts homeless group

Jan. 13—A brand new Missouri legislation has the potential to impression the homeless inhabitants in St. Joseph.

Home Invoice 1606 went into impact on Jan. 1 and criminalizes unauthorized tenting on state-owned lands.

The invoice raises some questions on whether or not the issue is definitely being addressed or simply shifted elsewhere, some say.

“They actually should not be issuing citations with out an alternate,” stated Sheila Mendez, avenue outreach case supervisor at Neighborhood Missions, an company that works with the native homeless inhabitants.

The invoice states, “No particular person shall be permitted to make use of state-owned lands for unauthorized sleeping, tenting, or long-term shelters. Any violation shall be a Class C misdemeanor; nonetheless, the primary offense shall be a warning with no quotation. “

Mendez stated there’s at present no everlasting emergency shelter in Northwest Missouri, which suggests there isn’t any different choice for a homeless particular person residing on the road.

“We have now quite a few, quite a few individuals on the housing record however we do not have sufficient housing inventory for everlasting supportive housing, emergency shelter, locations that we are able to have them go versus the place they’re at,” Mendez stated. “No one actually needs to be on the road. Proper now, there isn’t any different.”

On prime of this, Mendez stated forcing individuals to maneuver from their camps and what they know creates extra trauma for them. It additionally places a pressure on group companies as a result of when a homeless inhabitants strikes, the company struggles to search out them and might not help them.

“Now I am much more fearful, am I going to have the ability to discover them?” Mendez stated. “Are they going to go additional into the town, into the group the place we won’t discover them? Since you’re taking away their solely protected place to go.”

With regards to imposing the brand new legislation, Interim St. Joseph Police Chief David Hart stated not a lot adjustments in regard to how the police division already operates.

“After we make contact with these people, we’ll put them in contact with assets to attempt to get them the assistance that they should finish the homeless scenario that they are in,” Hart stated.

He stated the legislation does present police with one other enforcement software if somebody refuses service and will not vacate the land. The legislation states it is going to be a Class C misdemeanor, and Hart stated enforcement will depend upon the scenario.

“We rely lots on our partnerships to cope with this drawback as a result of most of those aren’t police points,” Hart stated. “We are available in and we’ll do what we are able to to assist and to maintain the immediacy of the scenario, however lots of our nonprofits and lots of our companies right here locally, they’re actually set as much as cope with the basic core problems with homelessness, so we use them.”

Mendez stated she needs the brand new legislation would focus much less on criminalizing the homeless.

“You give them a misdemeanor C, that provides them a file,” Mendez stated. “That additionally prevents them from acquiring sure forms of housing. I feel that solely exacerbates the issue.”

The brand new legislation additionally addresses state funding for group teams that work with the homeless. Official wording states, “State funds in any other case used for everlasting housing tasks shall be used to help people with substance use, psychological well being therapy, and different companies like short-term housing.”

This implies state funds can’t be used to assemble everlasting housing however as a substitute go in direction of companies similar to psychological well being therapy. Federal funds will nonetheless be accessible to assemble everlasting housing tasks.

The legislation does, nonetheless, permit for funding to go to sanctioned tenting websites and short-term shelters, similar to tiny residence villages, which Mendez believes will assist.

“I feel that may assist, however I simply want it wasn’t such a broad-spectrum legislation,” Mendez stated. “I feel each group has its points with the homeless so far as ‘What are we going to do?’ And I feel we have to return to the desk and revisit what works and what does not work with the intention to discover a answer.”

Morgan Doyle could be reached at

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