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Missouri camping ban could give cities opportunity to direct homeless people to support

Last year, Missouri’s House Bill 1606 became law and made it a class C misdemeanor to camp on public land after receiving an initial warning. It also allowed the state attorney general to sue local governments that don’t enforce the ban.

Last month, the Missouri Supreme Court struck down the bill, concluding it violated the Missouri Constitution because it included unrelated legal topics, such as county governance and COVID-19 regulations. But talks have begun, and the legislature is considering correcting HB 1606 and restoring the public camping ban this session.

Critics of the bill say camping bans “criminalize homelessness,” but that couldn’t be further from the truth. A misdemeanor citation would only be issued to an individual camping in a prohibited location if they refuse to leave the area and if there is an open bed in a local shelter. The same would be true for anyone law enforcement instructs to leave restricted areas. It is a measure that protects the health and welfare of homeless individuals and the communities in which they live, and is only actioned upon if there is a safer space for the individual.

By enforcing camping bans, cities can help ensure the safety of public parks and other areas while directing the homeless to areas that are more secure and have the capacity to provide the resources they need. Said differently, camping bans like the one struck from Missouri are a compassionate way of addressing a severe and growing crisis that Missourians are becoming increasingly concerned about. Voters are weary of the inaction of their elected officials when it comes to the rise of incidents of violent crime, drug trafficking and even human waste polluting their cities as a result of failed homelessness policies.

In a new poll conducted in January, 63% of Missouri voters report they feel homeless camps in public places pose a threat to public safety. Further, 55% agree that homelessness in Missouri is increasing, compared to just 5% who see it as decreasing and 27% who think it is staying the same. Missouri voters are clear that they feel their communities’ security is being jeopardized by allowing homeless camps to continue to pop up unchecked, and their fears aren’t without merit.

Read full piece at Columbia Missourian »