On Tuesday, the Missouri Supreme Court overturned HB 1606, a bill with language that Empower Missouri advocated against during the 2022 session. Our advocacy, among many others, helped to shape the lawsuit, Byrd v State of Missouri, that led to Tuesday’s decision. Because of the work by Empower Missouri, Legal Services of Eastern Missouri, Eden Village, and many other organizations across the state, the court found that the addition of homeless criminalization to HB 1606 did not fairly relate to political subdivisions. Therefore, it violated the state’s single subject requirement, which says that Missouri state bills cannot be too broad, and the entire bill was ruled unconstitutional and invalid. HB 1606 started as a bill related to county financial reports, which clearly is in no way related to homelessness.
Criminalizing the experience of homelessness is an attempt to further marginalize vulnerable communities. With the decision to overturn yesterday, the following harmful policies are no longer law in the state of Missouri:
- Criminalize homelessness: Sleeping outdoors was a Class C misdemeanor in the state of Missouri starting January 1st, 2023. For individuals outdoors, the first offense would be a warning. Subsequent violations would result in being charged with a Class C Misdemeanor, which carries a punishment of up to a $750 fine and/or fifteen days in jail. The enforcement of this law would create additional barriers for these individuals to become housed due to some landlords refusing to rent to potential tenants with criminal convictions. The fine is an impossible hardship for those who are unable to meet their basic needs and experiencing homelessness.
- Legal consequences for not enforcing the law: HB 1606 included language that would allow the attorney general to sue cities that did not enforce the “camping ban”, regardless of the availability of homeless shelters in those areas. Additionally, any locality with a higher per capita number of homeless individuals thanthe state average would lose state funding. Larger cities often report higher numbers of homeless individuals because of their proximity to services and healthcare. Funding for these nonprofits in these areas would not be reinstated until they either showed that they reduced their numbers below the state average and/or were enforcing the ban.
- Reduce funding for Permanent Supportive Housing: State funds previously set aside for permanent supportive housing would be redirected to short-term housing, as well as mental health and substance use treatment. Additionally, up to 25 percent of funds received by political subdivisions for public safety can be directed to outreach teams, which include law enforcement. This goes against the Housing First model, which supports housing as the first step in intervention for people who are homeless with co-occurring issues, such as mental health and substance use. Reducing funding for permanent support housing is a step backward in the effort to reduce homelessness in Missouri.
While Empower Missouri celebrates this win, we realize the fight is not over. The language was overturned based on the constitutionality of the process, not the language itself. In fact, the original bill sponsor, Missouri Senator Holly Rehder, has already stated her intent to refile the bill. Empower Missouri is ready to continue advocating against policies that cause harm and create more barriers to addressing the affordable housing crisis in Missouri. We will need your help. Use our form to contact Senator Rehder and tell her that incarcerating people who have no resources isn’t what Missourians want. If you are an organization who combats homelessness in your community- please join us in our campaign to educate our lawmakers about Housing First, Permanent Supportive Housing, and more. Contact Misha Smith at [email protected] to get involved.