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New program allows Council Bluffs police officers to build relationships with people living in tents

Posted at 5:51 PM, May 30, 2024

COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa (KMTV) — Council Bluffs Police are cleaning up former campsites along the river. The department works with social service agencies to find better housing, or at least better campsites, for people living in the woods.

  • “The ones that we have had to relocate, they’ve either relocated to a new campground or a handful of them have been able to be housed,” said Officer Adam Bemis, who is part of the Homeless Outreach Project.
  • In the last 90 days, Council Bluffs Police have contacted 173 people who are unsheltered or have limited shelter.
  • Chasity Kephart is a social worker; a first responder community health coach. It’s a new position with Jennie Edmundson Hospital and the police force. Part of her job is responding with the police department’s Homeless Outreach Project. “On Friday when I came out here I was very impressed that the officers that have been doing this work, knew who everybody was ... There wasn’t one individual who wasn’t welcoming of us.”
  • To volunteer to help clean up the former campsites visit the police department's Facebook page.
  • RELATED| 'Nobody would choose this': Council Bluffs project works to help, rather than arrest, people living outside

BROADCAST TRANSCRIPT:
In the woods, along the riverfront, dozens of neighbors in Council Bluffs live in tents. I’m your southwest Iowa neighborhood reporter, Katrina Markel and I'm here because authorities say it’s a growing problem. The Council Bluffs Police Department is cleaning up some of the former campsites and, in that process, they’re helping neighbors who lived in the woods find new shelter or new campsites.

Last month we met Kristine Richardson, a woman who lived in a tent along the riverfront in Council Bluffs.

Kristine Richardson: “Nobody would choose this.”

Some of the folks living outside, near the river, have to move their campsites because of development. Officer Adam Bemis is part of the community police team that keeps in touch with them.

“The ones that we have had to relocate, they’ve either relocated to a new campground or a handful of them have been able to be housed,” said Bemis.

Kristine called me after the April 26 tornadoes to let me know she was safe, but her phone number is no longer connected. Officers who know her say she’s been getting help.

“The police department has contacted 173 people over the last 90 days, in some fashion, camping or being out in the elements,” Bemis said.

Chasity Kephart is a social worker; a first responder community health coach. It’s a new position with Jennie Edmundson Hospital and the police force. Part of her job is responding with the police department’s Homeless Outreach Project.

“On Friday when I came out here I was very impressed that the officers that have been doing this work, knew who everybody was,” said Kephart. “There wasn’t one individual who wasn’t welcoming of us.”

On Wednesday, a man who recently relocated his campsite didn’t want to be on camera, but talked to Bemis about recent thefts in the woods. Another couple asked for more insect repellent.

Kephart plans to tackle other roadblocks for people who are unsheltered.

“Starting with things as simple as getting them an ID so they can get a job, helping them obtain their medical card so they can go to the doctor,” Kephart said.

Police say, there’s a shortage of affordable housing right now, so, the goal is to keep neighbors safe until better shelter is available.

They’re also accepting adult volunteers to help clean up former campsites.