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MoDOT clears out homeless camp in north Columbia


Columbia residents might have noticed a large pile of debris along eastbound Interstate 70 Monday morning as Missouri Department of Transportation crews worked to clear a homeless camp.

The work is happening along eastbound I-70 near the Providence Road exit, behind the Nissan Dealership.

The large pile of debris includes shopping carts, bikes and wood pallets.

MoDOT Spokesperson Marcia Johnson said in an email today the camp was being cleared due to safety concerns.

"Not every encampment creates safety concerns, but when they do, or when they are in the way of planned work activities, we work with our partners to address them," Johnson wrote in an email.

She was not able to provide any details about what those safety concerns were or the timeline of the cleanup.

Johnson confirmed a vacate notice had been issued to people living in that camp on Thursday, which said people needed to have the area cleaned of any personal belongings by Monday morning.

Sarah Owsley, advocacy director at Empower Missouri, said people forced out of these camps don't usually get moved into housing. Instead, she said they usually get dispersed and eventually come back to the same area.

"They might go hide further into the woods or away from public view, where they are much more likely to be victims of crime, to be assaulted, sexually assaulted, etc., until they ultimately, we mostly know that they tend to return to the place that they were swept from within just a few months," Owsley said.

She said the best way to interact with homeless camps is to send out trained outreach workers to build trust and get people engaged in nearby services.

"Camp sweeps actually prevent these folks from engaging later in services like permanent supportive housing because we have destroyed some level of trust," Owsley said.

Johnson said MoDOT works closely with its law enforcement and city partners on things like this, including the City of Columbia. Columbia Police Department spokesperson Jenny Hopper said the department went out to the camp when MoDOT served the vacate notice, but has had no other part in the clean out.

City spokesperson Sydney Olsen said she believed MoDOT did work to connect people to resources in the community.

As of February 21, the Boone County Coalition to End Homelessness said there were 261 homeless people in Boone County.

According to the 2023 Point in Time Count, which records the number of homeless people living in a community, the Central Missouri region had the largest number of reported homeless people in the state.

Owsley said homeless people are going to go where there are more resources, which is likely why Central Missouri has a large homeless population. She said homelessness usually isn't an individual's fault, but is rather due to high housing costs and long wait lists for housing.

She said the goal should be to get people stable, not throw away their belongings.

"We've now upended this person's entire life again for something that is probably not going to help them reach any type of stability," Owsley said. "So, when camp sweeps happen, in the absence of services especially, it's a real difficult experience for that individual and it's really just sad."

Article Topic Follows: Columbia

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Morgan Buresh

Morgan is an evening anchor and reporter who came to ABC 17 News in April 2023.


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