After conversations with the Missouri Department of Transportation about the increase in homeless encampments across the state, some Missouri lawmakers introduced legislation to address the issue.
Senate Bill 1106, sponsored by Sen. Holly Thompson Rehder, R-Cape Girardeau, would create an opportunity for nonprofits to use state funding for designated parking or camping areas.
“These are safe, supervised areas away from downtowns and neighborhoods where homeless people can bring their belongings and have access to running water, sanitation facilities and public safety,” said Thompson Rehder. . “The admissions process, which is my favorite part of this bill, includes an assessment of an individual’s mental health status.”
Any political or nonprofit subdivision in an area with an above-average number of homeless people per capita that receives state funding to provide homeless services must investigate homelessness and identify individuals with the most combined days homeless, incarcerated, or hospitalized. and use public funds otherwise used to build permanent housing to help these people, the bill’s summary says. A political subdivision or nonprofit organization may use state grants for permanent housing or to conduct surveys, but such expenses must not exceed 10 percent of the total grant amount.
Additional provisions regarding the allocation of funds are set out in the draft law.
During a public hearing on the bill, Thompson Rehder and other witnesses highlighted some of the problems with using a Housing First approach, noting that the root causes of homelessness, such as mental health and addictions, often go untreated.
According to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, Housing First is an approach to connect homeless individuals and families to permanent housing without preconditions or barriers to entry, such as sobriety, treatment or service participation requirements. Support services are offered to maximize housing stability and prevent relapses into homelessness instead of addressing pre-determined treatment goals prior to entry into permanent housing.
Cities like Austin, Texas, San Diego, Calif., and Athens, Georgia, have seen success with similar programs like the one in his bill, Thompson Rehder said.
“Mental health professionals and social workers will work inside camping areas to manage any crisis; law enforcement officers ensure that serious disputes are resolved, that an individual’s property is protected and the camp is a safe environment,” said Thompson Rehder.
A big concern for many homeless people is the ability to keep all of their possessions with them. Some even refuse to stay in shelters as they are often only allowed to bring a certain number of personal bags.
Judge Glock, director of policy and research at the Cicero Institute in Austin, testified in favor of the bill.
“When they say we almost have to wait a few decades until we have enough money to buy enough houses for all of them, that can’t be a solution that Missouri or other states can or should follow,” Glock said. “What this bill does is give states and cities more options on how to address homelessness and allow … the redirection of some of the housing trust funds to insured solutions and such as sanctioning campsites (and) small houses.”
Under SB 1106, shelters are eligible to receive more funding after program implementation.
“It’s a pay-for-performance funding structure that allows the state to invest in what works and helps us start to move away from what doesn’t work,” Thompson Rehder said.
“To find a good, lasting solution to homelessness, we need to address the underlying issues to see long-term success,” she added. “It’s certainly an incredible opportunity to be able to get people to the mental health services they need.”
Click the link below in our digital edition to read the full invoice:
• SB 1106: Funding for housing programs
Sponsor: Senator Holly Thompson Rehder