Hannibal to regulate camping in city parks in effort to deal with growing homeless population

CentralPark-Fall

Hannibal's Central Park Photo: Hannibal Parks and Rec.

HANNIBAL, Mo. — After the Hannibal City Council voted 4-3 in favor of an ordinance to allow the Parks and Recreation Director to create camping spaces, the city must now decide how to differentiate between camping and living in a park.

Hannibal’s park system does not currently have any locations in which camping is allowed. An ordinance was drafted by City Attorney James Lemon at the request of Central Services Director Andy Dorian. Dorian told council members that he needed their help in dealing with homeless people who often sleep in city parks. He said he fields calls from residents complaining about the homeless sleeping in public restrooms or along the walking and biking paths. Dorian said city employees often have difficulties dealing with those who are living in the parks.

3rd ward council member Stephan Franke suggested the ordinance would force the homeless to move to residential areas. Franke also expressed concern that the homeless would be arrested, jailed and fined. 5th ward council member Colin Welch said he was initially in favor of the ordinance but changed his mind after hearing from residents who were opposed to it. 

Police Chief Lyndell Davis said HPD works with several local agencies to find facilities and/or treatment for homeless people, many of whom are dealing with mental health and drug and alcohol issues. Lemon noted that no one who is destitute is fined or imprisoned. Mayor James Hark said he had received a letter on December 31 from the New Embassy Church at 600 North Street, which is now operating a homeless service. 

In the end, with Franke, Welch and 4th ward council member Alan Bowen voting no, the bill was given second and final reading.

Earlier in the meeting Faye Dant, who operates Jim’s Journey museum, spoke to council members about plans for the upcoming Black History Month. Dant had sent council members a letter detailing those plans and describing some of the goals of the month’s events. Dant asked that the city become more involved in Black History Month than it has in the past, although she did not give any specifics as to how. 

Black History Month runs from February 1st through February 28th. Events will include a visual arts display that will open on February 1st at the Alliance Art Gallery at 112 North Main. A Black History Month celebration is planned for February 19th at the Admiral Coontz Armory from 3 to 10 pm.  The BHM celebration is sponsored by Jim’s Journey, Hannibal’s Juneteenth Committee and Hannibal Parks and Recreation among others. It will feature family oriented activities, food, music and games to help teach Black history. Dant said banners and posters will soon be available with more information.

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