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Missouri Will Now Fine & Jail Homeless People Sleeping On State Property Including Bridges and Underneath Highway Overpasses

In Missouri, people experiencing homelessness are being criminalized for seeking a place to sleep outdoors.

A new state law, called House Bill 1606, has made it illegal for the homeless population to sleep on state-owned property. This includes bridges and underneath highway overpasses, commonly sought-after areas for those with nowhere to go.

Governor Mike Parson signed the law late last month, despite criticism from his own administration. A month before the legislation was signed, Missouri Department of Mental Health Director Valerie Huhn pleaded with the governor to take another route, as House Bill 1606 is certain to negatively impact those living on the streets.

“When people experiencing homelessness have criminal justice histories, it is difficult to find housing,” Huhn wrote in May.

Under the strict bill, anyone caught sleeping on state property will first get a warning. If they are caught violating a second time, they will be hit with a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by 15 days behind bars or a $750 fine. Cities that fail to enforce the law will face lawsuits from the Missouri attorney general. While many people expressed outrage over the bill, West County Rep. DeGroot maintains that the unhoused will not be thrown in jail when confronted by law enforcement.

“The bill states that an alternative to living on the streets has to be offered or that citation cannot be issued. So, the police officer has to have a place for these people to go,” DeGroot stated.

The law further states that cities may only utilize state and federal funds to create temporary camps for the homeless rather than permanent affordable housing.

DeGroot, one of the bill’s sponsors, has stated multiple times that the law goes into effect on August 28th. However, House Bill 1606′s language says it goes into effect on January 1st, 2023.

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