Kansas City will now give people 48 hours notice before removing houseless camps
The city says the goal of the policy is to connect unhoused residents to resources such as shelter or housing.
A year after public encampments in Westport and in front of City Hall drew attention to how Kansas City deals with unhoused residents, city officials have finalized a policy on the removal of encampments and providing assistance to the unhoused residents who live there.
“It's going to lead to better relational outcomes when it comes to working with folks in the camp, because it's all built on trusting relationships,” said Josh Henges, Kansas City’s homelessness prevention coordinator. “And when there's this view that it could be disturbed, or in some way violated, violently through the police, it's really, really hard to get traction with any group of people.”
The policy, which took effect on April 15, requires 48 hours notice before an encampment is removed, outreach to people living there and minimizing police involvement.
Councilwoman Ryana Parks-Shaw, chair of the Houseless Task Force, said that when camps were previously removed, unhoused residents were forced to pack up their belongings and move to another location. She said the new policy requires that the city provide resources to those living in encampments.
“Whatever they need to connect them into the system where they can get help and hopefully help to end their homeless situation,” Parks-Shaw said. “Rather than just making them pack up and move down the street, we're hoping that they can get integrated into the care system.”
The policy allows the city to designate “emphasis areas” — city-owned land from which a camp was previously removed. Emphasis areas are regularly inspected by the city and will be posted with a notice. People camping in an emphasis area will be subject to removal.
City spokesperson Maggie Green said the city believes shelter and other housing options are healthier, safer and more supportive than encampments.
“Our goal is to have more supportive living environments for everyone in Kansas City,” Green said.
Henges said the longer someone lives in an encampment, the harder it is for them to find permanent housing.
“We know that adjudication will never end homelessness, at the same time remaining encamped will not end homelessness either,” Henges said in a statement. “We need to work together to find better solutions than tents. Our houseless community deserves better than that.”
The new policy outlines different procedures for encampments that pose an “immediate hazard” or “obstruction” and for encampments that do not.
An encampment is considered an immediate hazard if it is located on city-owned property and the residents of the camp are at risk of serious injury or death. An immediate hazard can include encampments located at highway shoulders, off-ramps and other areas close to moving cars.
A camp can be labeled an “obstruction” if it hinders the movement of traffic or interferes with the use of a property or facility.
Obstructions or immediate hazards can be removed immediately by the city without notice. But if removal of the camp does not take place immediately, the city must post a notice.
Camps not considered immediate hazards or obstructions are subject to removal if they pose safety or health hazards; are sites for criminal activity; damage the environment; can’t be reached by emergency services; or are located on work sites.
In those cases, the city must give 48 hours notice before removal and provide outreach opportunities to move unhoused residents into shelter.
The policy requires the city to offer alternative options for housing or other shelter for occupants of the encampment and provide transportation to those shelters. It also says outreach workers must visit each encampment at least once between the time a notice for removal is posted and when the removal takes place. It further requires outreach workers to be present when the removal of an encampment is taking place and offer services and housing alternatives.
Unhoused residents and advocates have criticized the city’s encampment removal process, which included throwing away people’s belongings. The new policy requires the city to store all personal items found during removal for up to 60 days.
At a Board of Police Commissioners meeting earlier this year, outgoing chief Rick Smith said KCPD had not issued any citations or made arrests at camp removals since early 2021. The new policy states that police or other emergency services should be notified if a camp creates a dangerous environment for outreach workers. A city spokesperson said the city wants outreach to be performed by outreach workers.
“The only time the police get involved are when there is, like, a crime being committed, or when outreach folks say, ‘Hey, could you just be there just in case things go sideways,’” Henges said.