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Crews clear out homeless camp in downtown Springfield

Published: Apr. 9, 2021 at 9:11 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - Bulldozers showed up to clear out a Springfield homeless camp this week. The City of Springfield said the people living there had plenty of time to move out. One advocate believes too many people lost irreplaceable items.

Christie Love, pastor at The Connecting Grounds church, said about a dozen people were moved out from under a bridge on Chestnut Expressway.

“It’s easy for us to look at a news story or something from a distance and think, ‘That really stinks’ or ‘They were given notice, they should’ve moved.’ When you know some of those stories it begins to change,” she said.

All of those asked to leave were familiar faces to Love. She said one was an 18-year-old and another was escaping trauma.

“We had an individual under there who was a domestic violence victim and we called several domestic violence victims here in the area and were told there was no bed space for her,” she said.

Springfield City Manager Jason Gage said the property is owned by MoDOT. Gage said in March, MoDOT received concerns about open burning, drug use and trash.

“In essence, you have a mess. If that mess isn’t cleaned up, heavy rain could push it into the stormwater system. It could blow around in the community,” Gage said.

The City of Springfield has a protocol for moving unsheltered individuals out of their camps. It involves giving those people time to find somewhere else to go. Adam Bodendieck is the Director of Homeless Services for Community Partnership of the Ozarks. He said the protocol also includes OneDoor to connect people with resources. Those services could be as simple as a shower or doing laundry, which are available at the O’Reilly Center for Hope.

“It includes housing and shelter services, making sure everybody knows what’s available,” he said.

In this case, the City of Springfield said an outreach team made at least four visits to the camp between March 26 and April 8. The people living there were given 48 hours to leave. Bulldozers arrived on Thursday morning.

Gage said, with all the information at his disposal, the city’s protocol was followed.

“It’s too easy sometimes to look at government to solve everyone’s ills and problems and we are at the table with the homelessness issue in our community, but we can’t solve all parts of it and we don’t have the resources to do that. It’s a community issue,” he said.

Love said she and other advocates were not told anything about the removal in advance, meaning they were not given a chance to help the groups gather their things. She said one man who lost everything from his tent to his medications to his family photographs was in the hospital after a stroke and had no way of getting his belongings.

“As we’ve looked into it, it does look like part of the protocol was followed. MoDOT talked to the city. The city talked to One Door, but at that point it looks like communication broke down because One Door never notified us, they never notified any kind of homeless advocacy groups or volunteer groups,” Love said.

Bodendieck said other groups stepped into fill that role.

“When the outreach teams discussed it with the folks who were living at the encampment, that was not communicated as a need,” Bodendieck said.

A city spokesperson said multiple people living there accepted the help offered to them, but a few others declined.

Gage said some individuals who do not want help from advocates might have behavioral issues linked to mental illness or substance use.

“That becomes a problem because there will be a time that the traditional shelter services will not be able to continue to work with them if they should choose not to work with those sheltering services,” he said.

Love said there is a even if some of those people had wanted to go to a shelter, finding space can be a struggle. She said some require identification that many homeless individuals don’t have, while other shelters have caps on the number of nights someone can stay or other requirements someone might not meet.

“Springfield desperately needs a year-round shelter where people can come and stay and sleep and have a place to exist,” she said.

Bodendeick agreed, there are limitations to some of the service options.

“Some individuals, yeah, they’re going to have more options than others based on their past engagement with the system and with various service providers,” he said.

That means, the people Love cares for, that others consider a problem, are consistently just moved around the city.

“There is a deep desire for many people to get help but many times when they ask for help, it’s just not there,” she said.

Love said the city asked for her to submit suggestions as to how to better include other agencies in the process. Her ideas include:

  • A team of people from Public Works, One Door, volunteer organizations, advocates, the Springfield Police Department, etc. to work together and meet regularly
  • Change protocol from notifying with a number of days to business days as some service organizations and shelters aren’t available on the weekend
  • Establish a review system where unsheltered people can make complaints if they feel protocol wasn’t followed

Love said a group of progressive faith leaders are working together to find long-term solutions for homelessness in the community and plan to organize a plan in the coming days.

Below is a timeline from the City of Springfield that outlines the events leading up to the clear out:

  • March 26 – MoDOT officials called for a Springfield Police Department (SPD) escort for an onsite visit to the property where a homeless encampment is located. SPD provided the escort and called One Door to provide a courtesy heads up that it was likely MoDOT would be asking the individuals trespassing on their land to leave.
  • March 29 - One Door dispatched an outreach team to ensure those in the encampment were connected with resources and made aware they would likely need to relocate. At that time, those present were in the process of cleaning up trash and appeared to already be making plans to relocate; everyone present indicated an awareness of local resources.
  • One Door / Burrell’s PATH team made at least four site visits between March 26 and April 8. The most people they talked to at any given time was eight.
  • April 4 – SPD, Public Works, MoDOT and other City officials participated in a conference call to discuss the issue. MoDOT requested using the City’s Homeless Encampment Protocol, providing a 48-hour notice to vacate.
  • April 6 at 9 a.m. – SPD contacted One Door and representatives from all of the agencies working together did a site visit.
  • SPD and One Door made contact with six people there at the time and told them about the need to vacate, and were given 48 hours’ notice and that clean up would begin Thursday. There were an additional 3-4 tents that were obviously being used for storage and not sleeping and one tent that had been abandoned. According to those who conducted outreach, there appeared to be a lot of abandoned belongings. Multiple people were connected to O’Reilly Center for Hope resources (e.g., showers/laundry, ID assistance, updated housing assessments) and given bus passes, trash bags to help with clean-up, information on other available services, etc.
  • April 7 - SPD went back and found an additional four people there. All responded that they knew about the deadline to move and declined assistance from One Door. They said they were in the process of getting their stuff packed.
  • April 8 – When the MoDOT cleanup crew and SPD arrived, there were still five tents and two people. SPD woke them up. They acknowledged that they knew about the timeline to evacuate. When asked if they needed assistance moving their tents and other belongings, they replied. “We can get other tents.” SPD reminded them that One Door has other resources.

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