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Union Homeless Situation Improving

Geoff Folsom, folsomg@emissourian.com​ ​ ​

A crisis intervention team has been making a difference in dealing with homelessness in the area around Union’s City Park.

Union Police Chief Andrew Parker told the board of aldermen at a meeting Monday, Oct. 12, that the team has been working with people in that area who need mental health and other assistance.

“I have not heard any other calls down at the park or anything this past week,” Parker said. “They’re trying to control the parks and the areas down there of concern, because of the activities of homeless there, especially at night.”

Pat Hoeft, who spoke at a September meeting about issues he’s had with people in the brush along Flat Creek, returned to speak to aldermen. He said he confronted a man that morning who Hoeft had issues with before. A police officer told Hoeft the man was banned from the area where the man was setting up items he collected from a dumpster.

“I just told him you’re not supposed to be back there,” Hoeft said. “He immediately got belligerent, started cussing at me. We exchanged words.”

Hoeft spoke again Monday, Oct. 19, at the parks, buildings, development and public service committee meeting. This time, he brought photos showing trash and bags of clothes left in the area.

But Hoeft said the situation is improving. He reported a homeless person Saturday night in the small Friendship Park at the corner of West Main Street and North Christina Avenue and said officers came right out and told the person to leave.

“They stayed there for, like, 20 minutes to make sure he didn’t come back,” Hoeft said.

Jack Wissmann, who lives near the Splash-N-Swimplex and previously complained of ornaments being stolen from his yard, returned to say the situation has improved.

“Somebody has done something really good with the homeless, per say,” he said. “There’s not near as many down there any more whatsoever.”

Wissmann said a “real familiar” person was seen in the grass recently, but police came and removed him quickly.

Along with increased police presence, residents said colder temperatures likely factored in the decrease in homeless activity.

Parker told aldermen in September that police told at least 10 people to leave the park area west of downtown the previous weekend. While the parks are open to anyone during the day, he said people can be removed if they break the law or park rules.

City officials have since discussed the issue with a homeless task force as part of an effort to take on homelessness from a countywide perspective. Ideas discussed include providing warming shelters and naming a county homeless coordinator.

Union also is working on a program that will allow police, firefighters and paramedics to survey people without homes using smartphones. Officials expect that to give them a better idea how many there are, whether they have families and what the needs are.

Hoeft added that, although the situation has improved, there is still cause for concern.

“I know everybody wants to have compassion and stuff, but I’m going to say you’ve got a percentage there, probably a good percentage, that I think you’ll be spinning your wheels on it,” he said.