SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — A recent Facebook post from The Connecting Grounds pastor Christie Love has generated controversy.
In the post, Love claims that some downtown Springfield business owners collectively raised money to purchase a one-way bus ticket to get an intoxicated homeless man out of town. She says a Springfield Police Department (SPD) officer was involved in facilitating the situation, and Chief Paul Williams confirmed that with her. Love also claims the homeless man signed some papers and was told that he’d go to prison if he didn’t leave Springfield.
Chief Williams says officers interact with homeless people daily. SPD has a group that has been around for almost 10 years called the Justice Mental Health Collaborative Project. It’s a group that meets monthly to help homeless people who have frequent contact with law enforcement and the courts. Williams told Ozarks First’s David Chasanov his side of the story.
“Some of the folks involved in that group were approached by an individual downtown who really wanted some treatment, wanted some services, and, gosh, really wanted to go home,” said Chief Williams. “He’s not from here. He’s from out of state.”
Williams says one SPD officer reached out to some of the group’s community partners. Through doing so, the officer was able to connect with the man’s family in California. From there, the officer got the family’s approval, acceptance and agreement that they wanted to help him when he gets back home – if he could get back home.
“That was the first part,” said Chief Williams. “Making sure that the individual wanted the assistance, and that there were people who would support him on the other end.”
Next, Williams says the man had many pending issues with The Springfield Municipal Court. The officer worked with the court, and they agreed to dismiss the dozens of charges that he had pending in court on one condition: if the man was actively going to seek treatment and deal with his substance abuse issues.
“Thirdly, there was an anonymous community member who stepped up and said, ‘hey, I’ve heard about this, and I want to provide funding for transportation to wherever this person needs to go,” said Chief Williams. “It was a really good example of the community coming together to help someone in need who really wanted some help, who asked for this help.”
Williams says the man was provided transportation to California and is now reunited with his family.
“I’ve been contacted by some negative social media posts about the police and/or business owners were buying people bus tickets to get them out of town,” said Chief Williams. “Absolutely not true. Not something we would do, or ever do. I think this [moment] should be celebrated as opposed to casting some aspersions on some ominous, evil act that’s being done to someone.”
Williams says when SPD interacts with homeless people daily, officers become the “de facto response agency.” This includes situations where someone is seen acting out of sorts or is being told that they don’t belong in an area.
“We’re the number one responding agency, but we absolutely try to connect with all of those service agencies in the community if we find someone who needs connections to services,” said Chief Williams.
One of those services is Connecting Grounds. The church’s outreach director, Katrin Scott, works to help unsheltered individuals.
“There is a misconception of we have to be afraid of homeless people,” said Scott. “A lot of people are standoffish, but there are several people that are kind.”
Scott says volunteering to help the homeless at Connecting Grounds can change your outlook.
“Not just handing them a sandwich or a bottle of water but actually learning their name,” said Scott. “Learning if they have kids. That’s what makes a connection and that’s what makes them want to work with us more. The ultimate goal for everybody is to help them find ways to improve.”
Other service agencies include the O’Reilly Center for Hope and Burrell Behavioral Health Crisis Center.
“Get them the help they need, connect them with services, but also getting the police officers back to what we’re really supposed to be doing,” said Chief Williams. “Police officers are to be keeping people safe and fighting crime in our community.”