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Action Alert: Missouri Passes Legislation to make it Illegal to be without Housing

Written by Brian Davis on . Posted in Action Alert

Since our founding, NCH has opposed any measure that makes it a crime to be homeless in America. We oppose enforcing “no camping” initiatives when there is no other choice available to those who lose their housing. Shelters are full, we still have a Covid problem and there are no more motels available to keep people safe. What do you expect citizens of Missouri to do?

NCH urges the Governor to reject this callous effort to solve a social service issue by using law enforcement.

We oppose solving the affordable housing crisis for a select few in our community. We support a comprehensive solution that involves “housing for all” utilizing a “Housing First” strategy for every single person who loses their safe secure dwellings. The Missouri legislature passed HB 1606 that makes it illegal to be without housing.

  • Missouri legislators are focused on providing “tiny homes” as a solution to homelessness. While some may appreciate tiny homes as a transitional or even permanent living space, NCH advocates for a wide array of other permanent housing solutions.
  • The initiative does nothing to address or alleviate homelessness and goes back to old and tired enforcement laws that led to an increase in homelessness in the early 2000’s.
  • The initiative will simply move people from one side of the street to the other, or from one neighborhood to another, rather than providing real solutions. It’s the equivalent of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic as it sits now at the bottom of the Atlantic.
  • HB 1606 says that people who “camp” will be given a warning and then charged with a misdemeanor if they do not relocate. This will only increase the costs on the criminal justice system with more incarcerations and judicial costs associated with enforcing this law.
  • Our unhoused community will be ticketed and prosecuted, leaving them with arrest records and high fines that will only make it even more difficult to secure housing.
  • HB 1606 instructs local communities to set up wartime-style internment camps or tent cities to place all those without housing in one part of town designated by the local community.
  • The initiative will send us back to the old way of doing things, with massive congregate shelter that has shown to be dangerous during a pandemic or other public health emergency. 
  • Any program provided public funds must have access to mental health/substance abuse assistance. While this sounds wonderful, it is pretty depressing sitting in a tent and watching a society of wealth and expensive vehicles pass you by while going to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. The punitive measures harbored by most “treatment” programs will only alienate and exclude more people than they help.
  • HB 1606 uses false data from the Point in Time Count as some sort of Census of homeless people and demands reductions or communities will lose state funding.
  • HB 1606 uses Point in Time Count as some sort of scientific count of the homeless population. It does not take into account that communities get a bonus for having smaller numbers compared to the year before. What community is going to engage in a truthful count when they are rewarded for stopping the second they get to the number they counted the year before?
  • The numbers cited by the authors of HB 1606 are a ONE day count of the number of homeless people. Every day in Missouri people become homeless. This number vastly understates the actual number of people in Missouri needing housing assistance. In addition, the scope of mental illness among the homeless population is vastly over- estimated. It is no where near 75% of the population when you consider that the majority of the homeless population are families with children.
  • The authors of HB 1606 are mischaracterizing it as an incentive to do better, while it will in actuality punish the social service community, those without housing, and those who want to help. It will do nothing to create more opportunities for housing Missourians
  • The state will mandate extensive background checks for anyone participating in these programs including criminal checks and forcing those asking for help to disclose their history of hospitalizations.
  • HB 1606 says that if a city allows camping the Missouri Attorney General has the power to intercede and charge the local municipality to prosecute those who illegal camp within the state.
  • Also, no community can bar a law enforcement officer from enforcing this law. It is martial law light. In the past every citizen would have objected to any state usurping their power and meddling in local government operations.
  • It is highly likely that one year after this law is initiated communities such as St. Louis, Kansas City, Springfield, Jefferson City, Columbia and even Branson will be under threat to lose their state funding for housing/homelessness because they will not be able to show any progress on reducing the numbers of homeless people.
  • The initiative is a smoke and mirrors policy where the outcome will be to pour more money into enforcement instead of housing.  Neighborhoods will see an increase in homelessness with no permanent solutions, as the Show Me State shows the nation how to make homelessness worse.
  • The plan is purported to offer a “comprehensive plan” to end long term homelessness but offers no details or additional funding to address the affordable housing crisis.

For this and many other reasons, NCH opposes HB 1606 and we urge the Governor to veto this bill that will only criminalize the status of being without housing in Missouri.

Here is a letter that NCH sent to US Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Fudge:

Dear Secretary Fudge:
We contacted your office early in the administration to complain about the growing number of sweeps of encampments in the United States urging the Department of Housing and Urban Development to act to stop this horrible practice of making it illegal to be without housing.  We asked that HUD condemn these policies and act to restrict federal dollars going to criminalizing of those without housing. It is ridiculous that local jurisdictions would take in millions of dollars for homelessness in rescue dollars to house the population while turning around and issuing tickets and throwing away the valuables of those who fled the shelters to live outside.  We understand that you and others spoke out against sweeps especially when they fly in the face of Center for Disease Control recommendations. We saw governors in Texas and now Tennessee (TN SB 1610) pass legislation forcing local communities to enforce “anti-camping” ordinances and allows the state to intervene if the local jurisdiction is not criminalizing homelessness fast enough.   Unfortunately, Congress has not given HUD the ability to halt the proliferation of sweeps in the US since we now have 66 cities are regularly sweeping those who live outside.  
We contacted your office about Iowa legislation 252 passed into law in 2021 that is a direct attack on the Housing Choice Voucher program.  This piece of legislation strikes local laws in three communities that do not allow landlords to discriminate based on how a tenant will pay the rent.  NCH thought it was important to defend a federal housing program which helps lift a disproportionate number of minority members of our community out of homelessness.  We again thought it was a betrayal of the partnership established over the last 40 years for one state to attack a federal program that helps solve a housing crisis while also accepting millions in federal funding to build and develop affordable housing.  We have yet to hear any public comments condemning the state of Iowa for this horrible piece of legislation.  
We write to you today regarding a bill that passed the Missouri (HB 1606) that the Governor is contemplating signing that is a direct assault on HUD policies and programs.  We urge you to intervene and respectfully ask the Governor to veto this bill.  We ask that you let him know how this will impact HUD funding before June 30 or the bill will become law.  Please inform the Governor of Missouri that this new law is inconsistent with any of the Consolidated Plans approved by the state and nor can it ever be consistent with those plans since it conflicts with Congressionally approved HUD policies.  This new law will result in people living in places not fit for human habitation for an indeterminate amount of time.  Please inform the Governor that this potential law is extremely harmful to those without housing, the social service community and the local governments who could lose all state funding as a result of this law.  The National Coalition for the Homeless sees a sharp rise in homelessness in Missouri as a direct result of this law’s implementation. 
If this law goes into effect, we recommend that you present a time line for reversal of this law or declare that HUD funding would be in jeopardy.  This is a direct attack on housing first policies and the long tradition of working to get homeless people into safe, decent housing. It perverts the Point in Time count into a census that Missouri will measure the success of the local homeless service providers, and if they fail to reduce the numbers they will lose state funding.  This was never the intention of the Congressional mandate to provide a point-in-time count. It is also a direct assault on the 30 year history of partnership between the federal and state governments in addressing the affordable housing crisis.   We urge you to intervene to stop this assault on federal policies.  If this law is allowed to stand other states will adopt similar positions and HUD funding will be misused to force people into internment camps.  The time to act is now. 

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