KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KCTV) – A new law goes into effect in 2023 that would prohibit sleeping or camping outdoors on public property.
The state passed the law over the summer. It contains several provisions about homeless shelters and funding, but local advocates have been concerned with one line in particular within its text.
The statute reads: “This act 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.”
Stephanie Boyer, CEO of reStart, Inc., said the law targets people who experience homelessness.
“I think it’s a scary situation for people to be in,” Boyer said. “Often, people in the homeless community are already targeted from a criminal aspect anyway. This only ups the ante for what that looks like. Now we’re talking about misdemeanor charges, which only adds a barrier to what’s going on and getting them into housing.”
Other advocates in Kansas City agreed. Maggie Thomas, a program director for Metro Lutheran Ministries, said laws that prohibit camping often pile onto the difficulties people many people face when they are applying for housing. Thomas often works on tenant referrals for clients.
“Anytime someone has recent criminal activity we have to convince landlords who are already hesitant,” Thomas said.
She also pointed out that many local shelters are already struggling to find space for hundreds of people seeking assistance, especially with last week’s dangerous subzero temperatures.
“I think it’s insidious that this is happening in the dead of winter, when our shelters are taxed more than they normally are,” she said.
Others were also concerned about the effects of the law on community outreach and building relationships with people experiencing homelessness.
Rev. Randy Fikki, the pastor of Unity Southeast, has been managing a winter emergency shelter at Hope Faith. He said the law would likely lead to greater demand at local shelters, and a greater need for resources and volunteers.
“Do something, even if it’s saying to yourself, ‘What’s the one task that I can do?’” Fikki encouraged.
Kansas City Police said it was too early to know how enforcement of the law would work.
A KCPD spokesperson wrote to KCTV5: “In general, our community interaction officers, crisis intervention officers and/or social services workers proactively respond to houseless camps for outreach efforts and to make them aware of resources available, as time and resources permit. Of course, we can and do conduct enforcement action in regard to any crime being committed or just to keep the peace if requested by an outside entity.”
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