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KCPD holds outreach fair for homeless ahead of major camp cleanup

Posted at 6:13 PM, Sep 27, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-27 19:13:52-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Right now there’s more of an effort to clean up homeless camps and trash in the city. 

Advocacy groups and homeless folks are aware of it, too. 

“There's a couple different changes going on in the community. You've seen things about trying to reduce panhandling, trying to reduce the tent communities, that kind of stuff,” said Cristi Smith, operations coordinator for Hope Faith Ministries. 

KCPD says its community interaction officers get at least one call a day from the city's 311 department regarding complaints on homeless camps. 

“If we're moving them from one location, how can we really help people in the long-run and stabilize them in a positive way?" Smith said. 

KCPD said they want to turn that into more of a positive thing, so that's why they held an outreach fair Thursday morning next to Hope Faith Ministries.  The goal is to get people into stable housing, or at least point them in the right direction before they have to clear them out of their camps. 

"Our main focus is that these are human beings in our city and if we have available resources that's not involving the 911 system, we can concentrate on other things that are police related, we can get those people connected," Officer Chato Villalobos said. 

KCPD said 130 people came through the fair to check out what's available. Swope Health, the public library, Veterans Community Project, Street Medicine, and Be the Change set up booths. 

Joel Ferris, who's been homeless for quite some time, said he came to have his vitals checked. He said the issue with clearing folks out of private property is that they have nowhere to go. 

"You take the time to get over there and get them off the property. Put them somewhere. Jail ain't the place," Ferris said. 

Villalobos and the police department say that's the direction they want to go. More of their officers are becoming trained in crisis prevention. 

"This is a response to not only citizens calling us about camps but you know, us becoming aware of them and trying to connect them with appropriate resources," Villalobos said. 

Ferris said it's a start. He hopes they'd hold fairs like this more often. 

"They talk about it and now they showing us that they supporting us a little bit. A little bit adds up when you keep doing it," said Ferris. 

While the outreach fair was happening, the Missouri Department of Transportation was helping KCPD clear out a homeless camp at Independence and Paseo, right next to the on-ramp to I-35 north. 

Officer Andy Hamil said he hoped some of the folks who lived there would go to the fair. 

The camps quickly turn into a public health and safety issue, Hamil said. Trash, sexual assault, drugs, and unsanitary conditions plague these areas. Many camps are intricate. The camp off Independence Avenue stretches up onto a hill, where people have built wooden platforms on stilts to put their tents on. Bags of trash and large tents still remain. MoDOT will have to get to those next week. 

Homelessness is a big topic right now in Kansas City. 

On September 4, KCPD and the Jackson County Sheriff's office held a meeting with folks in the Blue Ridge neighborhood, who have been complaining about similar trash and panhandling issues. 

The city council is struggling with a pedestrian ordinance which would prohibit people from standing at an intersection or exit ramp longer than it would take to cross the street. 

Many people say it actually targets panhandlers. 

The initial proposal drew criticism from folks questioning its legality. Many say it's too broad and too punitive. 

The council held another hearing on the ordinance, also at the same time as the fair. The transportation committee is leaning on a 'no' vote, but decided to push the topic to the full council for a vote. 

Most of the folks who spoke during the public comment section talked about panhandling specifically.