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Columbia, Jefferson City officials prefer resources over arrests when it comes to homelessness

COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)

Starting in January, those who sleep on the streets could face legal consequences if found on state land in Missouri.

A new Missouri law will make it a misdemeanor to sleep on state land, such as under a highway or in a state park. The law goes into effect in January 2023. Political subdivisions, which can be cities or counties, have to enforce the law or they may lose access to state funds for homeless shelters.

There are two lawsuits challenging the new law, claiming it violates the single-subject rule, as it was tacked onto a bill about political subdivisions.

Steve Hollis -- of Columbia Boone County Public Health and Human services -- said the city is unsure what the law changes for Columbia. He said Columba is waiting on guidance about the law, and the city doesn't receive state funding for its homeless programs. Most of the funding going into Columbia for homeless programs is from the federal government.

"We already had a sleeping ban on the books in Columbia," Hollis said

Jefferson City Police Chief Eric Wilde said part of the law allows political subdivisions to redirect those found sleeping in prohibited areas to resources such as Project Homeless Connect and an emergency overnight shelter in Jefferson City opening this January.

Project Homeless Connect held a free resource fair in Jefferson City on Friday. The event provided access to things like dental, vision and non-driver's license IDs for people who live on the streets.

"Ultimately that would be my preference is that we find homeless people help to make them un-homeless and not throw them in jail for being homeless," Wilde said.

Karen Taylor, co-chair of Project Homeless Connect, said the new law is short-sighted.

"I understand their intention on a certain level, but it seems to tie the hands of those who are trying to assist those who are unsheltered," Taylor said.

Article Topic Follows: Missouri Politics
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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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