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Still waiting | Claims from flood damage for individuals still in limbo
Buchanan County waits to hear outcome of federal flood assistance

On April 18, representatives from the State and Federal Emergency Management Agencies came to Buchanan county to look at the damage of the first set of floods. They approved funding for a first disaster declaration. In terms of this second flood, there have been only preliminary assessments on both public and individual requests.

Flood damage assessments happen through the efforts of local county officials coordinating with state and federal-level officials when they visit counties. The State and Federal Emergency Management Agencies are responsible for deciding the amount of money allocated to individual and public assistance assessments.

“Nothing has happened yet, (in terms of individual assistance) but public assistance requests were approved in the first declaration,”  said Bill Brinton, the Emergency Manager of Buchanan County. “We do expect them to come here, and we do expect to start any day and anytime for the second one.”

In the first flood damage assessments back in April, no individual assistance was announced yet. Only public assistance was approved, which includes bridges, roads, water pumps, etc.

“Since the individual assistance was not approved in the first one, we included all of those in the second declaration, which is in Washington being considered,” Brinton said.

The Missouri State Emergency Management Agency was scheduled to come back to Buchanan County for a second round of flood damage assessments. It looks like the state and federal governments will go with their preliminary assessments taken back in early June, rather than come back out again.

“Preliminary damage assessments for Buchanan County were conducted on June 10 for public assistance, and during the week of June 12 to 14 during a flyover mission for individual assistance,” said Caty Eisterhold, the Public Information Officer with SEMA.

As for when the county will find out if the second disaster declaration was approved, SEMA will hear from the federal level and then relay the information to the county.

“We have not heard back about the second disaster declaration request. We’ve been told it could come at any time,” Eisterhold said. “The first disaster has already been declared for public assistance in 13 counties.”


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Public forum held on homeless issue

A public forum was held at City Hall on Monday to discuss the homeless population south of Downtown St. Joseph, where residents and business owners say the concentration of services for the homeless has led to a crime problem.

South of Messanie Street is where The Crossing shelter, Eighth Street Community Missions, the Salvation Army and other resources for those experiencing homelessness are all located. With the new food kitchen being built on the corner of Eighth and Messanie streets, those who live in the area have expressed concerns that there will be no reason for the homeless population to leave that part of town.

Many have them have approached the City Council with stories about witnessing violent crimes, finding people sleeping in their yards and catching people breaking into buildings or stealing packages.

Greg Filardo, who lives in that area, was one of those people who has approached the council with concerns. He said homeless people would lay under the trees in his yard and often left trash.

However, when he confronted those people, he said they began to help him and now he wants to work together with the homeless population in order to stabilize the area.

“Amazingly, they started picking up litter, cleaning the area up and trying to police the bad people from causing problems,” Filardo said.

Filardo scheduled the forum with the intention of creating a neighborhood watch collaboration between residents of the area, including those who live in the shelters.

The meeting ultimately became more of an informational session with city leaders, members of the homeless population, social service workers and residents coming together to discuss concerns.

Sean Hauser, who has experienced homelessness in his lifetime, said the problems are being caused by a few bad apples. He said many of the homeless people he has met in the area actually have job skills and training, but they are in need of help to find a fresh start, often because of substance abuse problems.

“I came through this and I got out of it, so there are some people (who can),” Hauser said. “These are human beings, but it is a problem that will not just go away, it needs to be addressed and we need to take a look at it.”

Mayor Bill McMurray said he would like to see programs created to help provide job training and opportunities for those who want to improve their situation. He said the repeat troublemakers who are not taking advantage of the services available need to move on from St. Joseph.

“For some of the people who don’t wish to change, maybe it’s a bus ticket out of town, as heartless as that may sound,” McMurray said. “I mean, if that’s the way you feel, if you don’t wish to change and we’re going to try and extend a hand to help and you don’t want that help, then, well all right, go somewhere else.”

Filardo, who taught in inner-city schools for over 30 years, said he believes instilling the value of education into the nation’s youth could be the best way to prevent these problems from occurring.

“No matter how much we try to teach, if they don’t realize the value, there’s no hope,” Filardo said. “Then they’re in the prisons, then we have this mess. So, maybe we need to look at the way we are educating our youth.”

Mosaic Life Care is funding an Urban Mission Collaboration, which could coordinate services to help provide health care, substance abuse treatment, employment, education, housing and other services for those experiencing homelessness in St. Joseph.

Mosaic said they hope those efforts will help to stabilize the area around Eighth and Messanie in order to lead to a reduction in crime.

The St. Joseph Police Department plans on meeting with cooperating members of the homeless population next week in order to start the process of creating a self-policing neighborhood association.


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Substance at City Hall found to be human ashes

A white substance mailed to St. Joseph City Hall that forced partial evacuation of the building was later determined to be human ashes.

Emergency officials responded at around 11 a.m. on Monday after an unknown substance was found in an envelope addressed to the mayor, according Mary Robertson, the city’s communications and public relations manager. The envelope had been sent to the city’s finance department, where the department’s purchasing agent noticed the envelope had been slit open and taped shut.

“There was a baggie with some kind of a substance in there, (we) immediately called the (police department) to have them come and take care of it,” Robertson said.

The St. Joseph Police Department, the fire department, the Region H Hazmat Team as well as the FBI responded and evacuated the finance department until the substance, which Robertson described as white and granular, could be identified.

“Staff is trained to look for unusual and suspicious packages,” Robertson said. “In this particular case, the envelope had been opened and resealed, so it’s obvious that there was something in there and we do treat it as hazardous until we know otherwise.”

Bill Brinton, director of the Region H Hazmat Team and Buchanan County emergency management coordinator, said his team was able to identify the white substance in what he called a “very unusual” case.

“It was actually ashes from a former city employee whose family sent it here to be spread over a garden at City Hall,” Brinton said.

The envelope contained a letter explaining the cremains. Additionally, a test performed by the Hazmat team confirmed the substance to be human ashes.

According to St. Joseph Mayor Bill McMurray, the letter was sent from Oklahoma City, but he did not recognize the sender’s name.

“Of course my first thought was, ‘It’s anthrax, I guess we’re all done now,’” McMurray said of the moment he looked at the envelope and felt a small bag in it. “Thank God it wasn’t that.”

The ashes and letter have been turned over to the St. Joseph Police Department for further investigation.


National
ACLU effort to put abortion ban to vote can proceed

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — An appellate court panel ruled Monday that the American Civil Liberties Union can soon begin collecting signatures that would put a new Missouri law banning abortions at eight weeks of pregnancy to a public vote.

A three-judge panel of the state’s Court of Appeals found that GOP Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft was “without authority” to reject petitions on constitutional grounds. The 31-page ruling was issued just hours after the panel heard oral arguments in the case.

ACLU of Missouri acting executive director Tony Rothert had argued that time was of the essence. Most of the new law, including the eight-week abortion ban, takes effect Aug. 28. The ACLU needs to collect more than 100,000 signatures by then to put the law on hold until a public vote in 2020. Rothert had argued that the signature gathering should begin by July 18; the court gave Ashcroft about two weeks to approve the sample petition for circulation.

“We are pleased with the ruling,” Rothert said. “We think the secretary of state was wrong and quite clearly trying to derail the referendum effort. We are happy that the court is going to get it back on track.”

The Secretary of State’s office didn’t immediately have a comment.

At issue is how the Republican-led Legislature voted to classify a section of the bill that changed the law to make both parents consent to abortions for minors in most cases. Because lawmakers made it an “emergency clause,” it took effect as soon as Republican Gov. Mike Parson signed it into law.

Under Missouri law, there is no right for a referendum when the law is addressing an emergency. The ACLU argued that parental consent isn’t actually an emergency, while the law said it is “because of the need to protect the health and safety of women and their children, both unborn and born.”

The emergency issue is what led Ashcroft to reject the petitions from the ACLU and prominent Republican donor David Humphreys, who has cited the lack of exceptions for rape and incest in his opposition to the policy, which does include exceptions for medical emergencies.

Humphreys’ attorney, Lowell Pearson, said in an email that “No decision has been made as of yet” about how to proceed. The two cases were not lumped together.

The legal dispute over the abortion law comes as the state’s only abortion clinic fights its own court battle to continue providing the service, despite a licensing dispute with the state health department.


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