A toy lies on the ground at a large homeless camp in northeast Springfield.
A toy lies on the ground at a large homeless camp in northeast Springfield. (Photo by Jackie Rehwald)


You can, in fact, enforce the law with compassion and thoughtfulness while clearing a homeless camp.

We saw that this week. A large camp in northeast Springfield off Kearney Street was cleared by 8 a.m. Thursday by Springfield police and — unlike when the Greene County Sheriff’s office clears a camp — no one is asking if law enforcement was involved in burning possessions that might have been left behind.

How the city handled this week’s clearing stands in stark contrast to how County Sheriff Jim Arnott has been handling similar situations.

The actions taken this week by the city were initiated by the Building and Development Services department and followed up by police.

The law this week was enforced, but with compassion.

When the sheriff enforces the law while clearing camps, even those in city limits, he deliberately ignores a city protocol and needlessly bypasses homeless advocates like the Rev. Christie Love, who works with the homeless of Springfield.

She and others are more than willing to help those ordered to move because they are trespassing.

Sheriff under no legal obligation to give notice — but is there a moral obligation?

The sheriff has noted in comments on the department’s Facebook page that homeless people have no right to camp on private property where the residents are understandably frightened. The sheriff says he is under no legal obligation to give the campers notice.

That is all true.

But he also noted he has worked with volunteers willing to provide dumpsters and equipment to clean up the garbage and excrement left on the property by the campers.

In my view, what the city protocol provides is a different set of volunteers.

These are volunteers, like Love, who the sheriff has decided to ignore. They can help at the front end. Why ignore them?

Pastor Christie Loves talks to a homeless woman who is still inside her tent.
Pastor Christie Love talks with Megan, who is still inside her tent. Megan, along with several other unsheltered people, had to leave the private property on which they were camping on March 22, 2023. Megan said she had lived there for five years. (Photo by Jackie Rehwald)

This week, the city removed anywhere from 30 to 50 people living in a wooded area behind what was once the Lurvey Courts motel cabins and a former site of a drive-in movie theater on Kearney Street.

The city has a protocol, which was established in 2014.  If there is no imminent emergency, the campers are given a minimum of 24 hours of notice.

If the campers are on private property, the property owner must first agree to the 24-hour notice.

This week, the city gave the campers three days notice. The city, per protocol, also notified One Door, the central point of entry for the coordinated intake of individuals without shelter.

Pastor Love was at the camp Wednesday night with Springfield Daily Citizen reporter Jackie Rehwald.


Compassionate volunteers can lessen the trauma for campers

This city has nonprofits ready and willing to help in these situations.

The sheriff can call them, as well.

They won’t make the sun shine bright tomorrow and everafter for those who are moved. They won’t get them all jobs or bungalows in Rountree.

But they can lessen the trauma.

If you go out of your way to not notify someone like Love — even if it’s less than a 24-hour notice — you deliberately and needlessly make an effort to sidestep compassion.

Arnott will tell you that it’s his job to enforce the law. He’s the sheriff, after all.

My point is that you can enforce the law with less flexing and more thoughtfulness.

If, for whatever reason, kindness doesn’t play politically in your book, you don’t have to be kind.

Let Pastor Love be kind for you.

But first you have to notify her, sheriff. Let her show up and be kind.

I believe the reality of homeless camps is somewhere between the two following visions.

The sheriff’s department goes to a camp and posts photos on its website of razor blades in trees serving as booby-traps and syringes strewn across the ground.

Pastor Love goes to a homeless camp and posts photos of people with very little in this world other than hardship and sorrow. 

Reporter Rehwald found a 30-year-old woman named Megan living alone with her dog and two cats in a large tent reinforced with boards and tarps. Megan sleeps with baseball bats near her bed for protection. Megan said she has lived in this camp for five years.

On Wednesday, Love told Megan about the Revive 66 Campground and where the Connecting Grounds Outreach Center is located. She told Megan that she can let her two cats stay with a foster family for a while. 

Anthony Carmichael, 15, holds two cats that his family is going to foster for an unsheltered woman.
Anthony Carmichael, 15, holds two cats that his family is going to foster for an unsheltered woman named Megan. Carmichael’s family will get the cats vetted and care for them until Megan is able to have them again. (Photo by Jackie Rehwald)

Just like that, the foster family — a woman and her 15-year-old son — were there.

The sheriff has said: If you are so concerned, can they camp on your property? In your backyard?

No, I don’t want that. I know there are methamphetamine addicts and people with severe mental illness in the homeless population.

And for the record, Love’s church also serves as a homeless shelter.

Why bust up camps — even those in city limits — and not acknowledge the city’s humane protocol in enforcing the law?

I’m not here to tell a heart-warming tale. I’m here to point out what has been made obvious this week.

Others with hearts bigger than mine want an opportunity to step in to lend a compassionate hand.  Give them the opportunity to do so.

This is Pokin Around column No. 106.

Steve Pokin

Steve Pokin writes the Pokin Around and The Answer Man columns for the Springfield Daily Citizen. He also writes about criminal justice issues. He can be reached at spokin@sgfcitizen.org. His office line is 417-837-3661. More by Steve Pokin