Riverfront Homeless Camps in Harms Way

Michael Bushnell
Northeast News

Rising waters are threatening those with the least, the most.

As the Missouri River continues to rise, residents living near the river are watching and hoping. Hoping flood predictions fall short of expectations given that literally, everything they own is at stake. For the section of Kansas City’s homeless population that live in shanties and ramshackle structures, crudely constructed in wooded areas along the banks of the river, rising river levels spell trouble in a big way as the flood surge slowly makes its way to the Kansas City area.

Between the Heart of America Bridge and the Chouteau Bridge alone, roughly eight such home-sites, some very elaborate, dot the landscape along the north and south sides of the river.  The residents of those camps are watching the river levels closely, hoping everything they own doesn’t get washed away.
“It’s a matter of public safety,” said Kansas City Police Captain Gideon Cody, who, along with KCPD Social Worker Trena Miller, walked through one of the three or four active homeless camps along the south banks of the river.

“The river is obviously at the doorstep of these camps,” said Cody, as the water slowly rose to within inches of flooding one camp. “If it comes up like the hydrologists at the Weather Service say it will over the weekend, everything here will be washed away along with anyone who happens to be with it.”
The camp was empty mid-morning on Thursday when it was scouted. However, the Northeast News spoke with a homeless veteran named Ed who said he occupies this camp and another camp across the river.

Ed had migrated to a bench near the City Market for the day, well above the threatening waters.
“Its gonna be me against the water,” he said when warned of the rising river levels and the possibility his camp would be washed away.

“I’ve been down there seven years and it hasn’t got me yet,” he continued.

Ed, an Army veteran, indicated he’s lived off the grid for roughly 15 years and has a place on the north banks of the river as well.

“I’m not worried,” he said. “If it comes up that high, I guess I’ll just go swimming.”

Ed’s camp on the north side of the river looked more like a garage kit from a lumber company versus a homeless camp, something Ed expressed pride about.

Ed balked at the thought of temporarily going to a shelter.

“They ain’t safe,” he said. “Them guys are drunks, they do drugs and I don’t want my stuff stole. I’ve got everything I need right there.”

The Northeast News reached out to Uplift, an organization that works in the homeless community, but they have not returned our requests for comment.

Major Kevin Freeman with the North Kansas City Police Department said a team of officers on ATV’s scoured the camps on the north side of the river earlier last week and notified occupants of the rising river waters. Most of the camps, according to Freeman were already empty.

KCPD Social Worker Trena Miller accompanied Officers to one of the camps Friday morning, where they encountered a man named Mark who was packing up to leave the area for higher ground.

By late Saturday morning, the camp that was visited Thursday morning was under roughly 8 inches of water.

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