Kansas lawmakers weigh ban on outdoor sleeping, camping as homeless advocates decry bill

As homelessness remains a persistent issue facing Kansas, advocates slammed a bill to ban sleeping and camping on state and local land.

As homelessness remains a persistent issue facing Kansas, lawmakers are considering whether to ban sleeping on state and local land, a move advocates for unsheltered individuals argue is counterproductive and criminalizes homelessness.

House Bill 2430 would also cut off state funding to combat the problem for local governments who have higher-than-average homelessness rates, a move that could threaten dollars for many cities across the state, including Topeka.

Proponents argue the move is a way of pushing more people to shelters and substance abuse and mental health treatment, though advocates note those resources already exist and are stretched thin.

“At the end of the day, you have to weigh the compassion for people in that situation versus the community that is being affected by the other side of that equation as well,” said Rep. Brian Bergkamp, R-Wichita, who requested the bill on behalf of a Texas-based think tank.

There is little doubt that homelessness is a major issue in Kansas.

In Topeka, for instance, an annual count showed 412 individuals experiencing homelessness in the city, an uptick of 47 compared with 2022; in Wichita the city has seen an 11.5% in its homeless population since 2020. And it isn’t just an urban problem, with advocates estimating nearly 1,000 Kansans in rural areas are homeless on a given night.

More:Point in Time count shows 412 people are unsheltered in Topeka, a jump of 47 from 2022

But critics say the better course of action is to steer more resources towards affordable housing and other programming to help individuals in need.

“This bill does perpetuate harmful stereotypes about people experiencing homelessness,” Rachel Erpelding, director of Kim Wilson Housing in Wyandotte County, said. “It communicates that everyone experiencing homelessness are dangerous … These people are more likely to be victimized…


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