JEFFERSON CITY — A Springfield, Mo., nonprofit that helps provide housing for people sued the state on Friday over a new law that upends current approaches to addressing homelessness in Missouri.
Lawyers for The Gathering Treewhich does business as Eden Village, said the law unconstitutionally deviates from its original purpose and deals with too many topics and has an unclear title, in violation of the constitution of the ‘State.
Eden Village also described how officials believe the new law would deny the nonprofit the public funds it could otherwise seek under current law.
The legislation prioritizes providing short-term shelter to the homeless, reversing a popular ‘housing first’ strategy to get people into permanent accommodation.
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Eden Village offers permanent accommodation, including individual accommodation for up to three people. Residents are allowed to live in the units longer than two years, which puts the group at odds with new state law, the attorneys said.
Eden’s lawyers, Benjamin Stringer and Timothy Ricker of the Hall Ansley law firm, said that by law, Eden Village could not use taxpayers’ money to house homeless people in individual shelters. for more than two years.
Eden Village also said it operates five campgrounds for people who are “chronically homeless,” but the new law will limit which camps can receive state funds.
Eligible encampments, under the new law, must provide a “mental health and substance abuse assessment” for individuals.
“Plaintiff’s campgrounds do not provide mental health or substance abuse assessments,” the lawsuit said. The law “will prevent the claimant from applying for or receiving public funds for which the claimant would otherwise be eligible.”
The new limits on where the state’s anti-homelessness dollars can go go into effect Jan. 1.
Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem hears Eden Village’s challenge to the law, which Gov. Mike Parson signed in July. A hearing in the case had not been scheduled for Monday.
Supporters of the law said during the spring legislative session that the Housing First strategy is not solving homelessness in Missouri and that more mental health counseling and addiction treatment are needed.
A key homeless advocate in St. Louis slammed the proposal in May, calling it “crazy.”
Tim Huffman, associate professor of communications at St. Louis University and co-chair of the St. Louis Regional Commission on Homelessness, criticized the new rules against unauthorized camping on state land.
The law also threatens funding for cities with large homeless populations that don’t enforce rules against public camping.
Huffman in May expressed support for the Housing First model.
“Permanent housing is often the only solution for the most vulnerable people. Some people are so sick that it never makes sense to give them fixed-term housing. It’s been 30 years back,” he said.
The legislation is House Bill 1606.