Some homeless are transient — passing from town to town, but there’s one individual on the road who is technically not going anywhere.
U.S. Highway 36 runs over the South Belt Highway in St. Joseph and some homeless people have taken refuge under the bridge this past year.
Nuisance calls regarding those individuals have been made to the St. Joseph Police Department. Among them have been parents with children at a day care.
Tiffany Brinton is the owner of One Step Ahead Early Learning, which has the capacity to take care of 74 kids between birth and 5 years old. The only thing separating the underpass from the playground is a wood picket fence about 6 feet tall.
“We have seen a particular individual out there with what I would consider a weapon, like waving it around — it looks like a big hammer,” Brinton said.
She included that parents have said he also has been seen yelling at cars, leading them to believe he may possess mental health issues.
“So that just makes our parents feel nervous,” Brinton added.
Law enforcement cannot currently enforce a law, such as trespassing, to get them to move along. The land is not private property, and of course it’s not illegal to be homeless.
“We’ve been out there numerous times, trying to establish dialogue at certain times,” Capt. Jeff Wilson with St. Joseph Police Departmen, said. “We’re working with several agencies in the city to try and find some remedies.”
The Missouri Department of Transportation said they also are working with the city of St. Joseph to develop a process aimed at handling homeless encampments.
The underpass itself is a public-right-of-way, which to this point in time has complicated the matter.
There was only one homeless person under the bridge on Wednesday, both in the morning, and in the evening. He identified himself as Nathaniel Walker, 28, from Casper, Wyoming.
From the sidewalk there is a steep cement ramp leading up to where he sleeps and stores his possessions, although an ID was not among them.
Walker’s socks do not match and were both soaked from that day’s rain. A green, dry, grime is present inside both of his ears.
He put on sandals and grabbed a tallboy beer before sitting down with News-Press NOW.
“All my friends and people that love me in this town and care about me — always have a heart pumping for good intentions for me to change my life,” Walker said. “My decision to be up under this bridge and homeless is because of myself.”
Walker has been to the Crossing Outreach Ministry, an emergency housing shelter located on Eighth Street south of Downtown St. Joseph, but it was over a year ago, by his estimation.
He didn’t like the drama at the shelter and he said it made his anger come out.
Brinton and neighborhood activist Theresa Hoaglin both wish for better lives for the homeless — even the ones under the bridge that have caused them headaches. But they don’t believe possible mental health and addiction issues will be addressed there.
Hoaglin drives under the bridge every day and said sometimes the smell forces drivers to roll their windows up.
“Where we were running into issues was not only were they defecating in the bushes, sleeping under the bridge, but then they moved furniture in,” Hoaglin said.
That furniture is no longer visibly present from the sidewalk, and the sidewalk itself is free of litter.
There are services inside St. Joseph for homeless people who want to get back on their feet. However, their improvement has to come with desire, and a willingness to play by the shelter’s rules.
One such program is called the Urban Mission Collaboration. It’s a three-year pilot program that has been largely financed by Mosaic Life Care.
The collaboration pairs the Crossing, Community Action Partnership of Greater St. Joseph, Pivotal Point Transitional Housing, the St. Joseph Police Department and the St. Joseph Health Department.
Staff there includes social workers, who can identify programs to address issues like addiction, mental health and nutrition.