Housing In Brief: Missouri Bans Camping On State Property

It’s part of a wave of anti-homeless legislation pushed by Cicero Institute.

Kansas City, Missouri

(Photo by Stuart Seeger / CC BY 2.0)

Missouri Camping Ban Takes Effect

A ban on camping on Missouri’s state-owned land took effect on Jan. 1, St. Louis Public Radio reports. The ban makes camping on state land a misdemeanor and will likely result in challenges for unhoused people searching for permanent housing, due to the prevalence of criminal background checks. The law was buried as an amendment to a much larger property tax law (page 131) at the close of the legislative session.

The legislation also diverts funding away from permanent affordable housing to substance use and mental health treatment, and prioritizes temporary housing, including parking areas and sanctioned camping facilities. If this wasn’t counterproductive enough, it also removes state homeless funding from any county or city that has a rate of homelessness above the state’s average. As the Missouri Independent reported in May, some towns across the state have no homeless shelters, leaving unsheltered people without options.

The law was modeled after a bill being pushed by the conservative Cicero Institute, according to the Independent. The company was co-founded by billionaire Joe Lonsdale, the millennial co-founder of Palantir police surveillance software. Similar bills were introduced in Georgia, Arizona, Texas and Wisconsin, according to Pew.

The Cicero Institute operates on the assumption that “housing first,” which prioritizes permanent housing and stability for people experiencing homelessness, is too expensive and does not sufficiently address issues like substance abuse. Yet “housing first” was always meant to pair stable housing with social services depending on the need, and substance abuse is often exacerbated by – or created by – prolonged homelessness.

The Cost of Ending Street Homelessness in San Francisco

A report from San Francisco’s Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, along with an outside consulting company, calculated that it would cost $1.45 billion over three years and an ongoing $410 million each year to end unsheltered homelessness in the city, according to SF Standard.

The calculation is based on the cost of building 3810 units of permanent housing and expanding the shelter system by 2240 beds. Jennifer Friedenbach, director of the Coalition on Homelessness, told The Standard that while the cost is high, “it costs even more to keep people homeless. The most cost-effective intervention is to prevent homelessness, which also happens to be the most humane.” Funding alone would not end unsheltered homelessness, the report acknowledges, as the city would have to find places to build all of that permanent housing and get it approved.

San Francisco officials are temporarily barred from performing street sweeps by a judge’s order. The court found that the city was violating a prohibition on conducting sweeps when there is no available shelter.

NYC Refuses To Test More Public Housing Residents For Arsenic

In August, New York City officials said they had found high levels of arsenic in the tap water in Jacob Riis Houses, a large Manhattan public housing development in the East Village. Days later, the city claimed this was the result of a testing error by an outside company.

Residents were skeptical of the city’s reversal, particularly as the water had been cloudy in the weeks before the testing. They may have renewed cause for skepticism, as a resident who died Oct. 1 was tested days before her death and had arsenic levels four times above what is normal, according to The City. Following the death of Riis Houses resident Josefa Bonet, her physician contacted the city’s health commissioner Ashwin Vasan saying that arsenic may have played a role in her death. He asked the city to expand arsenic testing for Riis Houses residents. Vasan wrote back a month later to say testing more residents was not necessary and that high arsenic levels among residents are typically due to their diet, noting that foods like fish and rice contain arsenic.

While all residents of the city get their water from the same set of reservoirs in the Hudson Valley and Catskill Mountain, water can become contaminated when it interacts with old building pipes, and Riis Houses is 74 years old. NYCHA has an outstanding capital repair need of nearly $40 billion. Yet funding for capital repairs across all of the country’s housing developments actually decreased in the omnibus spending bill passed last week.

This article is part of Backyard, a newsletter exploring scalable solutions to make housing fairer, more affordable and more environmentally sustainable. Subscribe to our weekly Backyard newsletter.

Roshan Abraham is Next City's housing correspondent and a former Equitable Cities fellow. He is based in Queens. Follow him on Twitter at @roshantone.

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