House committee hears bill to ban homeless encampments, build shelters

March 30, 2022


Missouri News Network

JEFFERSON CITY — Homeless people in Missouri would be barred from camping out in public spaces under a bill proposed by Rep. Bruce DeGroot.

DeGroot, R-Ellisville, said HB 2614 would “basically ban camping on the streets.” According to the bill, anybody caught doing it would be charged with a Class C misdemeanor, which carries up to 15 days in jail and a $700 fine.

Instead, the bill would redirect state funds for building long-term shelters to building short-term homeless shelters. Individuals would be allowed to live in these shelters for only six months.

The shelters would provide mental health, substance use treatments and other services to reduce homelessness. Afterward, people would be directed to a federal program, DeGroot said.

The force behind this bill was the libertarian Austin, Texas, advocacy group Cicero Action. Judge Glock, a member of that organization, testified in favor of the bill. He said it would “create numerous steps toward finding independent life and house.”

“But if you don’t have a time limit, you can’t help people get to that next step,” he said.

He elaborated on how the ban would work by using Texas as an example. He said usually the homeless encampments would receive a notice of services a week beforehand. In the meantime, law enforcement agencies would connect camp residents with as many shelters as possible. Then, the agencies would visit the camps a day before. Finally, on the day of the eviction, they would come back to store any belongings left behind “in a safe, secure spot.”

Members of the House Judiciary Committee raised concerns about the immunity and penalty provisions of this bill. The immunity provision would shield owners and managers of the short-term shelters from being sued for all civil claims except intentional or grossly negligent conduct.

Rep. Mark Ellebracht, D-Liberty, said he would like to take that provision out. He added that although people in his community did not know how to solve the homeless issue, he did not think “that gives folks that run these facilities carte blanche to do whatever they want to folks living on their facilities.”

One of the penalty provisions is criminalizing homeless encampment in public places. Moreover, government entities in cities that have shown a certain increase in homeless population for two years in a row and refuse to arrest people for camping out in public would no longer receive homelessness assistance funding.

Rep. Robert Sauls, D-Independence, said the provision eliminating public safety funds for government entities with a higher-than-average homeless population that refuse to ban public encampments “probably could use a little bit of cleanup, too.”

For Rep. Rudy Veit, R-Wardsville, arresting homeless people for camping out in public would result in judges putting them in jail. He described this situation as “arrest more and build bigger jails.” He also suggested letting people stay for at most two years instead of six months.

“We have to think these things through before we start passing it all the way through,” he said.

Multiple organizations across the state that work with homeless populations opposed the bill, including Empower Missouri and Health Forward Foundation. They criticized the bill for “criminalization of homelessness” and “penalizing service organizations.”

Micah Titterington, executive director of Community Outreach Ministries in Bolivar, Missouri, stated in his written testimony: “Rather than penalizing someone for something they do not have (a home), our community’s and law enforcement efforts would be better spent working to address the roots of why people feel a need to camp out in the first place.”