Homelessness is likely at an all-time high in Union.
“We probably have more homeless now than we’ve ever had,” Union Police Chief Norm Brune said.
There have always been homeless people in Union, Brune said. Lately, however, the longtime chief has noticed a change.
“Previously, when you talked about homeless, it was transients from different areas coming through, staying for a few months and then moving on,” he said. “Most of our homeless now are local people.”
Brune said there are many factors for the rise in the homeless population. One major factor is drug use.
“Most of them are (homeless) because they’re drug addicts and they’ve burned all the bridges with their families,” he said.
In recent years, he said, opioid addiction has increased and that has led to more homeless people.
“We’ve had this issue of heroin and fentanyl addiction increasing in the last five years,” he said. “That is definitely connected to the increase.”
The rise in the number of homeless people has led to an increase in some crime. Brune said shoplifting is up, as well as cars being broken into.
“I would say thefts from vehicles are up because of (the homeless),” he said. “We keep telling everyone to lock their vehicles and it will prevent 90 percent of those thefts.”
The police chief said one recent arrest pinpointed how the car thefts are often linked to unlocked doors and opportunity.
“We had a guy steal a lunchbox from a vehicle at one of the schools,” he said. “He admitted it. He was hungry.”
For the most part, however, Brune said the homeless population hasn’t been a issue.
“We don’t get very many complaints about a homeless person being at a business, interfering with a business, we do occasionally, but it’s not a rule — they’re not creating that type of problem,” he said.
Union police are aware of locations where the homeless community are staying. Brune said there aren’t extra patrols, but police are monitoring the areas.
“Our parks are always a concern for that, but we also have creeks, bridges over the river,” he said. “They provide some shelter, but they are also dangerous because of rains and the possibility of flooding.”
Brune said he thinks more can be done to help the homeless population.
“They’re still human beings and they’re struggling, whether they brought it on themselves or not,” he said. “As a Christian, we should try to help. It’s the right thing to do.”
Combatting homelessness is a complex issue. Brune pointed out it’s not a simple solution that you can just throw money at and have things be solved.
On the other hand, more resources are needed to properly fight the issues.
“There are charities that try to help, churches that try to help, but it’s not an easy issue,” he said. “Providing shelter costs money.”
One way to help combat the issue is to look at the root causes, Brune said. Tackling issues like drugs could be a solution to prevent more people from ending up without a home, he said.
“Drug addiction is not a police issue,” he said. “The supplying of illegal drugs is a police issue. The possession of illegal drugs is a police issue. Drug addiction is a community issue.”