Providing resources for the homeless and working to limit squatters on city property was a topic of discussion at a recent Riverside board of aldermen meeting.
Community development director Mike Duffy fielded questions from the board Tuesday, Sept. 25 regarding homeless people reported sleeping at E.H. Young Riverfront Park. The park will soon undergo construction of new park amenities in a phased plan expected to transform E.H. Young into a regional destination park.
In the future, the park will feature Missouri River access allowing visitors to launch kayaks and spend extended time in the park. Duffy said the city may need to look at ways to provide short-term overnight housing options for visitors, without those options becoming a camp for the homeless.
While the people most recently reported living in the park were removed, Duffy said, city staff must constantly check the area for more. The park already has security cameras in place.
In Kansas City earlier this summer, fires from homeless camps under a bridge on Beardsley Road connecting Kansas City, Kan. to downtown KC caused significant damage to the structure of the bridge, forcing its closure. The cost of repair is expected to be high, with no concrete plan in place to address it.
Duffy said the city must remain vigilant to prevent similar situations in Riverside.
“We do have and have had a range of homeless issues over time,” Duffy said. “That’s something that we’re working to convene a meeting with MoDOT (Missouri Department of Transportation) about. Sometimes it’s happening in our city but on MoDOT right-of-way. We’re looking for a more constructive solution of how we handle all of that.”
Aldermen reported hearing of homeless people living in the woods near the old Skyline Inn site off Gateway Avenue and in the old East Slope Cemetery. There are also reports of homeless people living along Line Creek.
“There are lots of areas,” Duffy said. “I know public works tends to find those areas when they’re out doing their work and then they report it to our police. It’s then a question of how we utilize resources because the police are busy doing lots of other things and trying to become a social service agency is really difficult for them.”
Duffy said the city needed to craft solutions for handling these situations — and potentially help the homeless — without burdening the police. Aldermen were concerned about how these people sustained themselves and if they were contributing to crime in the city.
Duffy said many panhandled, but Riverside has been fortunate that it hasn’t had problems with panhandling at intersections — a problem Kansas City is currently working to address.
A homelessness-related secondary problem that Riverside has been dealing with is littering. Duffy said more illegal dump sites have been popping up and creating a challenge.
“It’s tough to go after property owners who may not even know there are homeless people living there,” Duffy said.