Missouri bill would ban unauthorized camping on public lands

Published: May. 31, 2022 at 6:28 PM CDT
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KCTV) - A new bill includes a provision that would prohibit unauthorized camping on state property, effectively banning some homeless encampments.

The bill contains a series of changes to laws surrounding political subdivisions. The section on homelessness includes several directives, including redirecting funding from permanent housing programs to “assist individuals with substance use, mental health treatment, and other services like short-term housing.”

The section on camping reads:

“This bill provides that no person shall be permitted to use state-owned lands for unauthorized sleeping, camping, or long-term shelters. Any violation shall be a Class C misdemeanor; however the first offense shall be a warning with no citation.”

Local advocates and assistance organizations have voiced opposition to the bill. Maggie Thomas, who works with Metro Lutheran Ministries, characterized it as criminalizing homelessness. She said other language in the bill could also reroute funding away from community organizations like MLM.

“It further removes funding from organizations like ours who are working to keep people from sleeping outside,” Thomas said.

She pointed to a provision that would withhold funding from cities that don’t meet certain criteria:

“Any political subdivision with a higher per-capita homelessness rate than the state average will not receive further state funding until the Department determines the political subdivision has a lower homelessness rate than the state average or it enforces ordinances prohibiting unauthorized sleeping and camping.”

Other advocates said another consequence of the bill would be an added burden for assistance organizations. Anton Washington, the director of Creative Innovative, said it would create “havoc and chaos.”

“It’s something that’s working against what we’re working for in our city,” Washington said.

In Topeka, a recent bulldozing of a homeless camp has people arguing that Topeka should adopt more policies like the one in Kansas City.