Missouri law aims to help the homeless; Heartland organizations aren’t sure it will

A new Missouri law prohibits people from camping or sleeping on state property without authorization.
Published: Jul. 19, 2022 at 8:17 PM CDT|Updated: Jul. 20, 2022 at 3:00 AM CDT
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CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. (KFVS) - Missouri House Bill 1606 was signed into law by Governor Mike Parson a few weeks ago. State legislators think this will help solve the uptick in homelessness Missouri has been seeing. Organizations that serve the homeless community say the people it’s affecting most, don’t even know about the law at all.

A man who has been homeless for eight years wished to remain nameless. He says life on the street is not fun, he doesn’t enjoy begging people for help.

“You can’t imagine some of the places people sleep,” he said. “It’s sad, we are humans... we are humans too.”

He hadn’t heard of HB 1606, but he will be affected by it. It says that no person can use state-owned lands for unauthorized sleeping, camping, or construction of long-term shelters.

State Senator Holly Rehder (R-Scott City) is one of the co-sponsors of the legislation. She said the goal is to help the homeless community.

“The worse thing you could do is have someone in a mental health crisis sleeping on the streets,” Senator Rehder said.

She says change is hard and doing things differently will be hard, but since homelessness is trending in the wrong direction, changes had to be made.

Not everyone agrees that this is the best course of action. Nathaniel Meece, planning director for an organization called Continuum of Care, said the law makes homeless people targets.

“It empowers law enforcement to go do roundups and it pressures law enforcement to go do roundups,” Meece said.

Continuum of Care wrote a statement of opposition to the law. It says that the adoption of this law makes it harder for homeless people and calls it unfair and inhumane. It also says it perpetuates the cycle of homeless.

“The more you have law enforcement policies and criminalization of certain activities in place, the more likely you are to have people move away from places where they can receive help,” Meece said.

Senator Rehder said that the use of law enforcement isn’t meant to be a scare tactic.

“In order to make a change like this you have to have a bite,” Rehder said. “However, that’s not what is the purpose of the bill or the feeling behind it.”

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