By Dennis Minich
The homeless population in Harrisonville has been the subject of discussion at a variety of civic and governmental meetings in recent months, but for the most part no action has been taken to try and solve some of the problems.
That has changed as the Harrisonville Police Department is attempting to take a more proactive approach in keeping homeless people off business and private property.
Lt. Chris Osterberg of the HPD explained, “Our efforts had been focused on trying to help them (the homeless population) but they have refused all help. We decided it is time to change our approach.”
Osterberg said the police are contacting businesses and residents in the parts of town where the majority of the homeless population congregates, primarily off M-291 Highway and North Commercial Street. The police are asking for landowners and businesses in the area to sign trespassing agreements which will allow the police to intervene with the trespassers without having to contact the landowners.
“Before, if we found someone at two in the morning or on the weekend, we would have to contact the business owner before we could do anything. With the signed papers, we can arrest the trespassers when we come in contact with them,” he said.
Osterberg said once the paperwork is on file, officers will have four steps of action to take. On the first contact, police will inform the trespassers they need to leave. On the second occurrence, a ticket will be written. The third time a person is found trespassing they will be arrested and taken to the police department for booking. After that, they will be arrested and taken to jail.
Osterberg said the steps are needing to be taken because business people and residents have been harassed and said there has also been property damage and trash being left behind.
The new program started in late September and Osterberg said many businesses have chosen to participate, but it is too early to know how effective the program has been.
“We have already had some repeat offenders, but so far we have given some warnings and the people moved on.”
“But whether it was because of the program or because of the weather or something like that, it’s too soon to tell,” he said.
While the police started the program in what is considered “high traffic areas” for the homeless individuals, Osterberg said any business or resident that has had problems with any homeless people can contact the police department to have the paperwork on file.
“We don’t really think this is a situation where everybody needs to fill out the paperwork,” Osterberg said. “But if a business or residence has had a problem, then we encourage them to contact us or come in.”