AURORA, Mo. — The Aurora and Marionville Police Department has received more calls recently about homeless people breaking into abandoned houses or buildings.

“Being homeless is not the problem,” Police Chief Wes Coatney said. “The problem is when people commit a crime because they are homeless.”

Coatney said Aurora and Marionville have about 10,000 people combined. Although they are not a large area, they still face similar things large cities face.

“I think maybe in big cities things become more visible just because there’s more, you know, more people around,” Coatney said. “I would say certainly volume wise, Springfield has a higher number [of homeless people]. But per capita [we’re] probably not that much different.”

Something Aurora and Marionville PD has done is offer help to homeless people, whether that’s shelter or counseling. Coatney said the closest homeless shelters are in Springfield and Joplin. But, there are mental health centers that can help homeless people, especially if they are experiencing alcoholism or other substance abuse.

“If we go out and we find you in possession of methamphetamine, we are going to arrest you,” Coatney said. “But if we go out and we find you and you are huddled up outside of an abandoned property and you are not currently in possession of methamphetamine and or not in the act of committing a crime, then we are going to do everything we can to help you.”

The goal of the department is to help people recover and get back on their feet, not throw them in jail. But, Coatney said most people don’t want to receive help.

“Addiction is a fickle thing,” Coatney said. “When someone is in the midst of a strong addiction to something like opiates or methamphetamine or whatever, they have to be in a really unique place to accept help even when it’s offered. I always want to leave that door open in my enforcement efforts to let them find that help prior to having to be thrown through the criminal justice system, which can be tough.”

For the past year, Aurora and Marionville PD has increased its drug enforcement efforts. Once the department completes and drug raid and arrests people, often times they are evicted from their home due to substance abuse.

“When we get enough information to go in and do a search warrant, we find drugs, we find methamphetamine or whatever, and we make those arrests those folks then get transported to jail,” Coatney said. “That gives the landlord sometimes the opportunity to start taking action that they were trying to take action on before or get people into the eviction process. By the time these folks are released from jail, a lot of times where they were living is no longer accessible. And so that leaves someone who is temporarily homeless.”

Police are asking neighbors to report any suspicious behavior if they see it.

“I think everybody’s sort of been on that alert and we’ve sort of got like a neighborhood watch,” Brenda Allen said. Police said a house across the street from Allen’s is know to frequent squatters. “They would even try to encourage kids on bicycles that they had some drugs if they wanted to buy them.”

Aurora and Marionville PD will continue outreach efforts in the homeless community. But, they said if someone is committing a crime, they will arrest them.

“At the end of my day, my responsibility still is law enforcement,” Coatney said. “When these folks are displaced and if they’re moving into an abandoned house or something like that, I like for people to call us, even if it might not be something that we can deal with right then and there. We’re going to keep offering that help, but we’re also going to keep offering law enforcement services that do result in arrests if we, if that’s the only solution.”