Senate votes to establish pilot program aimed at helping homeless population


JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The Senate passed legislation that would create a pilot program aimed at helping the homeless population in Missouri’s two biggest cities.

Proposed by Democratic state Sen. Jason Holsman, the bill would establish a fund to provide services for homeless people in Kansas City or St. Louis. People would be able to donate to the fund by text message.

“The idea behind this bill would be to allow for individual citizens who have kindness, sympathy, and charity for those in need to route their charitable contributions to organizations who are legitimately providing services to the homeless,” Holsman told The Missouri Times.

Sen. Jason Holsman

Holsman said he’s heard from constituents — and has even experienced — issues with panhandlers in Kansas City, which he represents. Some panhandlers on street corners have gotten aggressive or threatening and others appear to be brought into the city specifically to collect money.

This bill would be a way for cities to aid those who truly need help and hopefully address the problems without potentially violating anyone’s First Amendment rights, he said.

“My hope is this raises a lot of resources to help the homeless,” Holsman added.

Cities that choose to create the fund would use its treasury to receive funds and be entrusted with administering the money, receiving donations, and promoting the program, according to SB 152. The money should only be used for services aimed at reducing the homeless population in the city, the bill states.

Cities would also be required to come up with the text-to-donate number and would establish a limit — if any — people could donate. Holsman suggested a cap of $1 per text.

Holsman said he would encourage cities not only to include on signs instructions on how citizens can donate to the fund but also information — such as contact information for a local organization — for a homeless person seeking help.

“My hope is this raises a lot of resources to help the homeless.”

He noted the program won’t eradicate homelessness or panhandling but could become a deterrent if a panhandler notices people giving to an organization listed on the city’s signs instead of handing over cash directly.

Holsman’s bill passed out of the Senate Tuesday and was sent to the House.

Before the bill passed, Republican state Sen. Doug Libla expressed concern that the bill — as it’s written so far — only allocates for two cities in the pilot program. He said he wished for the program to encompass the whole state.

“Sometimes it’s easier if you do incremental changes, and Kansas City and St. Louis have hot spots where this is a real problem,” Holsman said, noting the program was initially just going to focus on those to areas to show a “positive benefit for the state” before expanding it statewide. “But if other members of other parts of the state want an opportunity to work with their cities to create this program, then I’m all for it.”

According to the bill’s fiscal note, St. Louis city officials estimated the program would cost about $30,000 to $50,000 in the first year but would taper to between $5,000 to $10,000 annually after.

The legislation says the General Assembly will issue a “one-time appropriation to each city to provide initial signage promoting a newly created text-to-donate fund.”

Holsman noted the state contribution would be “minimum,” and the program would essentially be “self-sustaining.”