SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Christie Love, a pastor at The Connecting Grounds, met with Springfield Police Department Chief Paul Williams this morning, August 11, 2020, to talk about homelessness in Springfield. They discussed how officers should engage with unsheltered individuals or those who are volunteering to do outreach in the community.
So, what led to this conversation? Well, some of it stems from an incident Love says happened in July.
Around the time of Springfield’s heatwave, Love’s church organized mobile outreach to try to keep homeless people hydrated and cool. Volunteers drove around several parts of the city to hand out things like water and sunscreen. Love says her volunteers were doing outreach on The Square downtown when an officer basically asked them to leave. Love says the officer asked for all of their information. She filed a complaint and asked to meet with Chief Williams, which brings us to today.
“It was a great opportunity to sit down with Chief Williams and just really express our heart for collaboration and partnership,” Love said. “We both acknowledged the unsheltered issue in our community is reaching new heights. I think we both would label this quickly approaching a crisis level.”
Right now, Love says there are between 600-700 homeless people in Springfield.
“The problem is not getting smaller, it’s getting larger,” Love said. “And, it’s only going to continue to grow.”
At the meeting, Love expressed her concerns about cold weather coming to the Queen City in a couple months. Love also talked about things that need to happen in Springfield to help decriminalize homelessness.
“Find some ways to work around kind of the current status quo of what’s happening,” Love said. “Where people are issued tickets left and right for different things. Often times for trespassing.”
Another talking point was trying to find practices that will be fair for everyone involved. Love says a high number of unsheltered individuals deal with mental health struggles. She wants officers to learn how to approach them so situations don’t escalate.
“Perhaps people who have relationships with those people could be brought in to help deescalate,” Love said. “So, that things don’t go to those levels where additional charges are added for simple offenses.”
Love says she felt like Chief Williams was supportive, and interested in thinking outside the box. Williams even gave her some suggestions for things to look into, like homeless court.
“I felt like it was a proactive meeting,” Love said. “I felt like it was a great starting point. And, I think more than anything it opened up that dialogue and commitment between us that we want to find ways to work together.”