By: Brian Evans

This past month, during the Joplin City Council Budget Session, City Councilman Keenan Cortez was visibly upset over citizen concerns, and that of other Council members like Dr. Mark Farnham, who expressed his worries over placing unarmed, non-sworn-in Park Rangers on duty in the parks at night to deal with the homeless who take residence in city parks, as well as in dealing with other public safety issues. Councilman Cortez stated that “they are still human beings’, expressing his concerns over the verbal frustrations of the community who are wanting homelessness reduced and cleaned up by the city!

However, based on long documented evidence, Councilman Farnham’s concerns appear to be grounded in research and on evidence, rather than on emotions and feelings… Furthermore, although I truly admire Councilman Cortez’ heartfelt and deep concerns for those facing hard times, we must be cautious and ensure that our efforts don’t enable, amplify and/or exacerbate the plight of the homeless who reside in Joplin streets and parks! Instead, we need to help in motivating them to get the much needed help and assistance that they desperately need, to not only better our society, but to better the lives of the homeless themselves! 

Therefore, to understand these concerns, let’s start by looking at the expressed worries of citizens in Joplin, and the plight of some of the neighborhoods and business districts throughout our city. But let’s start by, looking back at the Joplin of our past, how homelessness was dealt with before, and at its successes or failures!

Just a little over ten years ago, our local Police Department had the manpower and resources to fully deal with homelessness, which allowed our officers the ability to remove the homeless out of people’s backyards, abandoned buildings, off private property, and thus toward facilities where they could get mental, physical, and substance abuse help and assistance. One example took place a number of times in the woods behind Sam’s Club, where the local Police had to regularly go in and ask the homeless to vacate the private property of  the local businesses! It led to some of the homeless leaving Joplin, but it triggered others to seek out help, and therefore ended up finding their way off drugs, and ultimately off the streets! In fact, it actually took their life from one that was spiraling out of control, and incentivized them to get their lives back on track, thanks to our JPD and programs designed to help them! Therefore, while some may call it being uncaring, the Police were financially and physically able to help a sizable portion of the homeless to become productive members of society, and toward a better life, versus living under the thumb of drugs, crime, and being left on the streets!

Now fast-forward to today, where the Police funding shortfall has resulted in a manpower shortage, and that effort has heavily crippled JPD, leaving not only our Police frustrated, but leaving our homeless population without much needed help and direction. Therefore, they’ve been literally left out in the cold!

Today, there are several categories of homeless in Joplin. 

First, our smallest group of homeless, include those who are facing hard times, who may have lost their jobs, lost their homes, and who have nowhere to turn. That group typically reaches out for help from Joplin homeless charities like Watered Gardens or Soul’s Harbor. That group tends to find their way slowly to get off the streets and back into society.

Secondly, we have another group who have recently been released from prison and don’t know where to turn. Therefore, they are inadvertently being incentivized to return to a life of drugs and crime. That is one of the reasons that prison reform is so important, as we need better programs to help them when released, in order to help get them back on their feet, rather than them turning back to a life of crime when released from prison. 

Finally, there is a third group who are in desperate need of mental health and/or drug rehabilitation assistance. Sadly, all too often drugs flood our streets, vulnerable Americans get addicted, end up losing everything, and ultimately have no option but to turn to the street and thus seek out harder drugs as an escape from that reality. Sadly, in those instances, drugs become the center of their world, and a means of escape for them from their own reality. Eventually, that life destroying drug addiction not only takes their family and worldly possessions from them, but it also many times ends up leading them to a life of crime. In the end, if they are left on the streets and to their own devices, it will many times lead to their own self-destruction and death! 

Sadly, Joplin has not been immune to these dehumanizing problems. In fact, the problem has grown in recent years, as our city has become a prime destination for the homeless and panhandlers, primarily due to the well-known generosity and kindness of the people throughout SW Missouri! Now that kindness and generosity is inadvertently doing more damage to the homeless and our city, than it is doing good!

However, as the problem has grown, it has mushroomed into a massive issue for local residents and business owners alike. Today, we have abandoned homes and businesses like the old Holiday Inn and Botany Shop, which have become homeless drug havens and filthy dangerous death traps, as dirty needles riddle the buildings floors and counters, feces and urine cover the floors and pool area, and the stench of death hangs in the air! In fact, it is a problem that has quickly spiraled into a massive crisis like can be seen in other cities like San Francisco, who put so-called compassion… ahead of principle. Furthermore, if we follow their lead, this is where Joplin is headed, as can be seen in the video below…

Now, there are homeless tent cities, much like in California and other major cities, that have been in existence on the southside of Joplin, which are now plaguing Joplin neighborhoods with home and car break ins, urination and defecation in people’s backyards, and citizen’s who are concerned for the safety of their children, as drugs and crime become the new normal in their own Joplin back-yards and neighborhoods.

Furthermore, in regards to empathy for the homeless, I can tell you about one student I had the heartbreaking opportunity and privilege to have met and tried to teach and help. The fifth grade student who previously came to my classroom struggled to socialize or make friends. They came to me at an academic level that wouldn’t even afford them the ability to read, write, or perform on a Kindergarten level! The child also had serious dental, health, and hygiene concerns, and over the next month, I began to suspect she had no home, and her family was transient, but she shared very little with me. I tried to connect with the parents, but with no success, at least until I ran into them at a church Halloween event. When I approached the mother about her daughter, she refused to talk for the most part, but her daughter finally told me that they were living in a tent at Zanns campground on the south side of Joplin. When I returned to school, the parents had dropped their child from school and moved to a new location. It was yet another heartbreaking example of the cost of homelessness on not only our community, but on the lives of homeless children!

Sadly, homeless tent encampments like the one my student resided in for a time, is wreaking havoc on Joplin neighborhoods, such as Sunset Ridge, and others that fall prey to the crime and dangers that these encampments pose to our  residents and children within this community!

Just a few examples of the consequential crime that results from the homelessness crisis that Joplin faces involves…

  1. July 7, 2022: At 3522 S. Main Street, a 43-year-old Chad Cargile… a homeless man with a baseball bat was charged for assault of a 71 year old man who told police that he had let him stay at his house to give him a place to stay, until the man returned to his residence drunk. 

Cargile was charged with third-degree assault and resisting arrest.

  1. Also, on December 8, 2020, a homeless man was arrested after attacking a woman on Frisco Trail around Euclid Avenue and North St. Louis Avenue. The female victim reported that she had been running on the Frisco Trail and passed a male along the trail. During that time, the male suspect pushed her down and put a knife to her throat and demanded she follow him. The victim told the suspect her husband was coming, and the suspect fled on foot. Officers canvassed the area but were unable to locate the suspect. Two days later, the victim observed the suspect standing near the roadway in Webb City and contacted police. The suspect, Aaron L. Aldridge, age 36 who was listed as being homeless.
  1. Also, Anthony Felix, the man who shot three police officers in early 2022, killing two of them, was in prison for nearly two decades in Arizona. Investigators identified the killer as 40-year-old Anthony Felix. Sadly, he senselessly shot and killed 27-year-old Officer Jake Reed and Cpl. Benjamin Cooper when they confronted him at a Joplin shopping area, in front of Bed Bath and Beyond off Rangeline Road. Then, after stealing a patrol car and crashing, he shot 53-year-old Officer Rick Hirshey. A police captain later shot and killed Felix.

Arizona court records show that Anthony Felix had an extensive criminal history, as he was convicted of the following crimes…

  • 2002 – Solicitation of Burglary
  • 2003 – Escape Second Degree
  • 2005 – Theft
  • 2009 – Armed Robbery and Flight from Law Vehicle
  • 2019 – Aggravated Assault

During his stint in prison, Felix accumulated 23 disciplinary infractions, but was still released in August 2020. In Missouri, he pleaded guilty to driving violations and drug charges. Court records indicate he was homeless at that time.

  1. On July 18th, 2021 at 8:38 pm, officers with the Joplin Police Department assisted the Newton County Sheriff’s Office by responding to First Baptist Church at 41st and Connecticut for an alarm, where 29 year old Brady Shafer, a homeless man was arrested Upon arrival, officers found a window had been broken and while getting ready to clear the building, a male suspect fled from the church on foot, but was apprehended by a J.P.D. K9. The suspect was identified as Brady C. Shafer, age 29, who advised he is homeless here in the Joplin area. Mr. Shafer was also charged with the following crimes:

• Bodegas, 515 S. Main Street- reported to JPD on July 11th

• Bartlett’s Shoe Company, 303 S. Main Street- reported to JPD on July 12th

• New Hope Church, 606 S. Moffet Avenue- reported to JPD on July 17th

• St. Phillips Episcopal Church, 706 S. Byers Avenue- reported to JPD on July 18th

• South Joplin Christian Church, 1901 S. Pearl Avenue- reported to JPD on July 18th.

6. Also, KOAM reported “Last summer July 4, 2021, at Ewert Park  a homeless man stabbed another man. That victim did not die. Joe Guevara, 31, pleaded Guilty this week in Jasper County Court. He was sentenced 11 years prison. Click 👉🏽 here for the story.

Sadly, these are just a few of the hundreds of crimes reportedly involving the homeless in Joplin, as they terrorize neighborhoods, businesses, and endanger women and children in our local playgrounds and park trails!

Law Enforcement Today reported that according to data…

“America’s homeless are far more likely to commit crimes – and also more likely to be victims”

In fact, they detailed how the National Institute of Health revealed that “the rate of violent crimes was 40 times higher and the rate of nonviolent crimes 27 times higher in the homeless population.”

Today, from cities like San Diego to New York, they actively tied the hands of Police, in the name of compassion, which led to much higher rates of criminal activity both being perpetrated by the homeless, and being committed against the homeless themselves, according to data.

They also noted how…

“There is a vast difference between homelessness among the mentally ill and addicted population creating crime problems and those without housing due to medical bills and economic difficulties.

Therefore, solutions for each group require different strategies, and sadly, there are endless media accounts of homeless people in other cities openly doing drugs, shoplifting, exposing themselves to those who pass by, and again, people demanding money. Therefore, unless Joplin seeks to fall into this perilous trap, it is time for us to restore our Joplin Police Department to its full manpower and capabilities.

Therefore, if we just simply ignore the distress of residents and businesses in Joplin, we will suffer the same fate as large cities in California and New York, with residents and businesses leaving the area out of fear and frustration. Therefore, their pleas cannot be ignored through the progressive ideals and thought, if we want Joplin to remain viable.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), about 30% of chronically homeless people have some sort of mental health condition and about 50% experience substance use problems, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

In addition, Law Enforcement today notes that from National Public Radio, they highlighted how the Director of the Scattergood Program for Applied Ethics of Behavior Health Care at the University of PA, stated that…

 “The disappearance of long-term-care facilities and psychiatric beds has escalated over the past decade, sparked by a trend toward deinstitutionalization of psychiatric patients in the 1950s and ’60s.”

To make matters worse, today, approximately 80% of prison inmates have histories of drug addictions or extensive use of drugs. Therefore, while we continue to try to find a solution for the homeless crisis, one thing has become glaringly clear, and that is the fact that the belief that treating the homeless’ lifestyle as acceptable, it not only does not work, but it destroys cities, has devastating consequences on the residents and businesses alike, and all while resulting in disastrous consequences for the lives of the homeless themselves, including many times death! Consequently, we must ensure that our Police, Park Rangers, and other first responders who deal with the homeless are fully equipped and prepared to handle the issue decisively and with the ultimate solution. Sadly, the only real solution is that we must work to get the homeless off of our streets, and to the mental, drug, or financial help that they need, based on each of their situations. After all, not one case is alike, so the remedies will vary!

Therefore, although I understand Councilman Cortez’ concerns that any of us could end up homeless at some point, I also must emphasize that the majority of our residents, should they end up homeless, would fortunately have access to the necessary services that would afford them the ability to get back on their feet! However, it is the group of people who are in need of mental or substance abuse help, that truly need law enforcement assistance, as too many choose life on the street, over charity organizations who require them to not be using drugs, or be involved in any crminal behaviors during their stay. After all, the safety of their guests, as well as their staff is of critical importance. Ultimately, I know that if I was homless and addicted to drugs, I would pray and hope that I could count on the Police Department to have the financial and physical resources to be able to provide me with that much needed tough love, which would help thrust me into a program that could not only get me off the streets, but ultimately save my life!