Kansas City councilman proposes regulating how the homeless are helped

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Kansas City is moving closer to a crack down on its growing homeless problem.

But what Kansas City councilman Scott Wagner is proposing isn't a crack down on the homeless -- it's a new set of regulations that would be directed at those who help them.

A homeless camp is growing behind the stone walls at 22nd and Grand along the railroad. Master Patrol Sgt. James Schriever said what you see there is the stone cold truth about the city's homeless problem.

Trash and makeshift beds cover the hidden hillside. Plastic water bottles, used lighters, blankets, disassembled electronics and a load of plastic silverware and styrofoam containers litter the area.

He said there's evidence of drug and alcohol use and mobile meth labs.

Three years ago, the city cleaned up the area at a cost of thousands of dollars, but the trash has returned.

Schriever said many of the homeless live in camps like the one at 22nd and Grand at night, but by day "it's very common (for them) to make $100 to $200 a day tax free."

The growing problem and all the problems that come with homelessness is why he has teamed up with the city's Homelessness Task Force.

He said the feeding programs that directly give meals to the homeless think they're helping, but in the end that method does not work.

"It's actually hurting, it's hurting everyone in our city," Schriever said.

But the volunteers at Uplift, a group who serves free meals the homeless at night, goes out with one purpose: To care and be compassionate.

Uplift's president Joe Kordalski said he believes he is helping.

"We would rather be doing something rather than nothing, and we understand meeting people's basic needs is an important part of being a human," he explained.

Compassion, Kordalski said, can eventually help the hopeless have the desire to leave homelessness and find housing.

But councilman Wagner, Schriever and others believe pushing them to a professional service will get them off of the streets.

"When we have programs that just enable, there's no incentive for those transients to seek those professional services," Schriever said.

In March, the city will hear a proposal to crack down on those independent feeding programs.

Wagner said the task force is considering everything from limiting where and what independent groups hand out, to making some of them liable for trash. He said a fine could be up to $1,000.

Wagner said he figures if it is more difficult to get free food, it will drive more people in need off the streets and into professional care, then eventually to live life on their own again.

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