After a homeless tent community in a parking lot on north Jefferson is shut down, dozens of homeless campers are searching for a new place to sleep. Attorneys for the city of Springfield and Reverend Larry Rice, who allowed homeless people to camp on his property, reached an agreement that closed the lot to campers. Around 10:00 Friday morning, a Greene County judge accepted the formal written agreement.
An attorney for the city of Springfield submitted a “stipulation of facts.” The signed agreement between attorneys on both sides required everyone living in tents, cars and RV's in the Veterans Coming Home Center parking lot to move out by 3:00 Friday afternoon. “New Life Evangelistic Center and Reverend Larry Rice shall refrain from using the premises located at 806 N. Jefferson as any type of campground, RV park or overnight shelter unless and until proper permits could be available and obtained,” the document stated.
About 30 homeless campers quickly packed Friday afternoon to meet the 3:00 p.m. deadline. “Once we leave here, who knows what we are going to do to survive,” a woman who wants to be called Beth said while packing her tent. “All we are going to do is break the law because we are in abandoned houses because we have no where else to go. Do you want us to break the law?” another woman who lived in a tent questioned through tears outside the courthouse. “We don't need the public to treat us like scum,” another camper told reporters.
When the homeless campers learned Rice and his attorneys signed an agreement with the city to stop any camping in the parking lot, emotions were running high. They walked from the Veterans Coming Home Center to the courthouse expecting to participate in a 10:30 Friday morning hearing that never took place. "We all request your decision be set aside," one of the campers asked the judge.
The judge denied a handwritten request because an agreement between the parties involved in the case was already reached. The written request asked for a 30 day extension to allow the homeless to find an attorney to represent them as a group. “The homeless filed their petition," Rice said. "I wasn't even aware they were going to do that." Although many of the homeless campers told the judge they supported the request for more time, the judge told them it was not proper procedure. “As of right now the case is finished,” Judge Michael Cordonnier told the crowd.
“I went with the agreement because I didn't want them shut down last night,” Rice said. “I also wanted to make it very clear we are not trying to violate any laws.” After the judge’s decision, the group walked back to the parking lot to pack. “This is the only place we can go that's safe,” Gabe Davis said while packing his tent. People living in the parking lot called themselves a family. They said they don't know what's next. “There's pan handling. There is a lot of stuff we could do to survive but we are going to end up in jail,” Beth said. “How would you feel if you had everything you've known ripped from you? Not knowing where you are going to go, where you are going to get your next meal.“
The director of the Veterans Coming Home Center says members of the Springfield community are offering rooms and their backyards to some of those who were camping. City leaders say anyone needing shelter should contact One Door. The organization is a clearinghouse that puts those in need in touch with services offered in the area. Those in need can walk-in at the office at 420 E. Pacific St. or call for an appointment at (417) 225-7499.
Attorneys for the city of Springfield initially filed a temporary restraining order and petition to stop camping at the center because of zoning ordinance violations. Rice says he is still collecting signatures for a petition to ask the city to donate one acre of land for homeless camping.