Campsite off I-44 and Hampton to be taken down Thursday

Published: Mar. 20, 2023 at 7:53 PM CDT
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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - Multiple signs are now lined up feet away from tents on a hill off I-44 and Hampton Avenue. These signs, issued by the Missouri Department of Transportation, indicate all unhoused residents camped out in this area must leave by noon on March 23.

“At this point, it’s their home, like it or not, and until there’s a better one provided, they’re being evicted from their home essentially,” said Syd Hajicek, Organizer with Lifeline Aid Group. “There’s at least three people there right now, with a number of others that come through the area.”

According to the notice and order to vacate, the property in which these unhoused residents have been living in, some as long as two years, is owned and maintained by MoDOT. A new Missouri law that went into effect this year makes it a Class C misdemeanor to camp on state-owned land, and cities that do not enforce this law could also face being sued.

Some of the people living at this site declined to speak on camera, but they do tell News 4 off camera they do not know where to go next, nor have they received any information from MoDOT officials or the city on what to do next.

“I’m concerned for people’s health and safety,” said Hajicek. “Even just the stress of being under threat of eviction, even if there’s no harmful or violent actions taken towards them, is immense, and we’ve been coming down here quite a bit to cover this, and I think that people are pretty fed up with the way that MoDOT has treated them.”

The new Missouri law continues to face scrutiny from advocates of people experiencing homelessness in the state, in part because it remains unclear what enforcement will look like and what is considered state property. It’s a law that also prioritizes state and federal funds towards temporary housing, substance abuse and mental health treatment rather than put forth funds into permanent supportive housing.

“The concern for our clients is they’re concerned about homeless people being criminalized, they’re concerned about programs that help homeless people, that will help homeless people will be abandoned,” said Joel Ferber, Director of Advocacy for Legal Services of Eastern Missouri.

Ferber says the Legal Services of Eastern Missouri is one in a number of groups that is challenging this new law related to homelessness and camping under HB 1606.

They argue that the provision on homelessness in the bill deviates from the original purpose of the legislation.

“A bill that regulated and criminalized homelessness was kind of stuck into a bill that originally had to do with county financial statements, county finances,” said Ferber. “But this entire provision has an entirely separate purpose, and violates the Missouri constitution.”

While challenges to the state law continue to be contested in the courts, MoDOT tells News 4 they will continue to work with the city to provide services to people who cannot camp here.

Though advocates of the unhoused population say those services remain unclear.

“My concern is that there seems to be no substantial housing options being offered to the people here, so they don’t really have any choice but to simply pick up and try to find another location,” said Hajicek.