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Columbia clears homeless camp as advocates notice increased need at overnight shelters


Columbia city workers began Monday morning clearing a homeless camp near the Interstate 70 and Highway 63 connector. This comes as volunteers and homeless advocates noticed an increased need at overnight shelters in the area this year.

An ABC 17 News crew saw at least four Columbia Police Department cruisers, several Columbia Public Works trucks and around half a dozen city-owned dump trucks parked along the connector. Crews were picking up debris from a wooded area off the road using heavy machinery.

People were also seen leaving the area during the clean-up with pets, bicycles and shopping carts full of miscellaneous items.

Columbia spokesperson Sydney Olsen confirmed to ABC 17 over email that the clean up of the camp is happening this week.

"While staff and volunteers did remove debris from the areas back in April, they are now following up to remove some items that remained," Olsen said. "In November, when staff was able to coordinate the multiple departments involved, they began the process of informing the few individuals who had been staying in the area they would be required to move by today."

A homeless camp was cleared out from the same area in April. Columbia received complaints from nearby residents and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources forwarded a complaint to the city. The DNR said the city could run afoul of regulations if it didn't do something about pollution in Hinkson Creek believed to be caused by trash pileups in the homeless encampment.

When asked if DNR issues any further complaints, the department told ABC 17, "The removal of homeless encampments is strictly a city of Columbia action with no department involvement."

Before the April cleanup, people living in the camp were given 30 days' notice to find another place to live. That cleanup took two days and required closing one lane along Highway 63 just north of the connector. No lanes were closed Monday morning.

Catherine Armbrust with CoMo Mobile Aid Collective was out at the camp as it was being cleared offering help and resources.

"There's no solutions other than coming in and breaking up communities and continuing to traumatize people who are living in those areas," Armbrust said.

Armbrust said the city is only worsening the problem by displacing people.

"We have in the past asked the city to provide porta-potties or dumpsters because you know that the just the problem is waste," Armbrust said.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recorded a 12% increase in homelessness since 2022 in its recently released report. According to the report, more than 650,000 people were experiencing homelessness on a single night in January of this year.

Room at the Inn in Columbia may be feeling those affects, as Deborah Graham said the overnight shelter has been more full than the previous year, despite the warmer-than-average winter so far.

"It's been kind of surprising that we have been as full as we have been so far this year," Graham said.

Graham does not anticipate the clearing of this camp to affect the number of overnight guests at the 85-bed shelter.

"The people who are still living in the camps, even though we are open and could accommodate them,  they're not likely to come in," Graham said.

Room at the Inn is just one of several resources available to those experiencing homelessness or who have fallen on hard times. Conrad Hake with Love Columbia said Harbor House is another option for people looking for overnight shelter. Love Columbia also stands ready to help people find jobs, affordable housing and learn how to manage their money wisely.

"Oftentimes, you know, some people might be in that situation where they've they've been involved with other programs, but they're really just trying to find a way to get back on their feet," Hake said. "They need a job. They need a place, just a way to get kind of started again. And if that's the case, we're certainly a good option there."


City of Columbia:

Love Columbia:

1209 E Walnut St.
Columbia, MO 65201

Room at the Inn:

1509 Ashley Street
Columbia, MO 65201

Harbor House:

602 N Ann St.
Columbia, MO 65201
(573) 442-1984

CoMo Mobile Aid Collective:

Article Topic Follows: Columbia

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Hannah Falcon

Hannah joined the ABC 17 News Team from Houston, Texas, in June 2021. She graduated from Texas A&M University. She was editor of her school newspaper and interned with KPRC in Houston. Hannah also spent a semester in Washington, D.C., and loves political reporting.


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