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Columbia homeless camp being cleaned out for forestry project


A Columbia Parks and Recreation homeless camp cleanup near Old 63 and Broadway is being done in anticipation of a forestry project, a spokesperson said Monday.

Parks and Recreation spokesperson Tammy Miller said crews were in the area Monday morning. She said the cleanup is part of a larger forestry project to remove honeysuckle.

A sign posted in the area last week said Parks and Recreation would conduct the cleanup and asked for personal belongings to be removed from the area. On Thursday, ABC 17 News saw shopping carts, clothing and at least one tent along the Hinkson Creek Trail.

Two people living at the camp told ABC 17 News on Monday that city crews came with a Bobcat machine to clear the area. They said while the workers were kind, they are now left with nowhere to go. They have dogs and say they won't be able to get into a shelter due to their pets.

The executive director of Room at the Inn, a shelter for the homeless community in Columbia, said Thursday he doesn't expect the camp cleanup to increase numbers at the shelter, saying he doesn't believe the camp has many occupants.

The two people living at the shelter said they were the last two people in that area.

The Salvation Army's Harbor House shelter is also not expecting to see an increase, with Capt. Amy Cedervall saying most people who live in homeless camps typically just find other places to camp.

"The majority of the people who live in the homeless camps really aren't looking for staying in a shelter," Cedervall said. "In particular, they're not looking at the Harbor House."

The Harbor House is a 90-day program that gives people shelter and support while they work toward stability.

Brian Johnson was a resident of the Harbor House a couple years ago and is now housed. He said he went to the shelter after years of being homeless, and the program saved his life. He said he is now sober and attending therapy.

While Johnson never stayed overnight at a camp during his time as a homeless person in Columbia, he said he had been to many in the area. He said clearing out the camps is not a solution to the city's homeless problem.

"It's absolutely not a solution," Johnson said. "All it is is it's just pushing the problem to another location. All they're going to do is just move to some other location and they're going to have to do that again."

The City of Columbia has previously cleaned out homeless encampments near the Highway 63/Interstate 70 connector in April 2023 and December 2023, and the Missouri Department of Transportation cleared out a camp in March near eastbound Interstate 70 by the Providence Road exit.

Cedervall agreed that homeless camp cleanouts don't solve any problems, saying that while problems at the camps can't be ignored, the focus needs to be on getting people the help that they need.

"There's not one reason for homelessness," Cedervall said. "A lot of the issues with homelessness need to look at addiction issues and it needs to look at mental health issues because that is an underlying cause for a good chunk of homelessness."

Johnson said he would like to see more resources available for the homeless population including more housing stock, peer support specialists, caseworkers and mental health resources. He also said he would like to see the city consider having one piece of land where homeless people are allowed to camp.

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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