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Springfield Police Chief proud, advocates concerned after officer helps homeless man get out of town

Published: Oct. 1, 2020 at 10:15 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - A Springfield police officer recently helped a homeless man get a bus ticket out of town and the city dropped all charges pending against the man. The police chief said, that’s a good thing, but homeless advocates worry police are simply shipping problems to another state.

Police Chief Paul Williams said his officers solve problems, they don’t just pass them on to another city. He said the man needed help, police took care of it. Christie Love, with the Connecting Grounds Church, said that individual was already getting support from caseworkers, and sending him to another state didn’t solve anything.

“Our heart is that we all learn to work together better because this problem is only going to get bigger in our community," Love said.

Love and volunteer Tami Reed believe Springfield’s homeless population is growing. This past weekend, someone they know living on the streets told them he was stressed.

Reed found the man in Springfield and helped him get to the bus station.

“He had to get out of town because the police wanted him out of town or he was going to jail," Reed said.

Police Chief Paul Williams said it was not an ultimatum. He said of his officers helped the man get a bus ticket to California, and an anonymous donor paid for it.

“This person approached my officer and said, ‘I want some help.’ I look at it as, he wasn’t getting the help, support and services he needed to get what he wanted, which was to get home," Williams said.

Love said her church has worked with the man on a regular basis.

“I don’t think any of us ever heard mention of California specifically," Love said.

Williams said his officer did not contact the mental health collaborative program- which works with the homeless community and their caseworkers- but did get in touch with the municipal court.

“[He] got an agreement, if this person will agree to treatment, getting on with his life and doing things better, we’ll agree to dismiss these charges so he doesn’t have that hanging over his head wherever he might be,” Williams said.

Love argues, advocates or caseworkers should’ve been involved. She said none of the man’s caseworkers had any idea about police and the prosecutor helping the man out of town. Love said, there’s usually a lengthy process to get a person a bus ticket, complete with making sure they have identification, means of communication and a safe place to go.

“They’re making sure that there’s actually family letting them stay with them, that we’re not just sending someone from this community to be homeless in another community," Love said.

Williams says this situation is not one his officers deal with often, but he’s happy with the outcome.

“I’m proud of what he did. I think everybody should be," Williams said. "This is a positive thing. I’m really disappointed people would try to put a negative connotation around helping someone.”

Love said transparency and teamwork is vital in these cases.

“We want to all be able to work together to do this but I think to do that we’ve all got to be able to trust each other," she said. "We’ve got to be open, honest and completely authentic about the actions we are taking.”

Love was also concerned the man was put on a 36-hour bus trip, while he was detoxing from heavy alcoholism. The man did arrive in California, but was hospitalized in Arizona after a seizure. Williams and Love said the man did connect with his family.

The man was going to face charges for violating city ordinances before leaving for California, which Williams said would not have gotten resolved any time soon. As a part of the agreement, he will need to enroll in a treatment program for his addiction.

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