Topeka officials move to clear homeless camps from area along Kansas River

TOPEKA (KSNT) – Topeka officials are preparing to begin the implementation of an ordinance aimed at removing members of the local homeless population from camps along the Kansas River.

KSNT 27 News spoke with sources with the City of Topeka and the Topeka Rescue Mission (TRM) about plans to enforce the new camping ordinance passed last year by the Topeka City Council. The ordinance places further restrictions on where people can camp in city limits, including:

  • No camping within 500 feet of the centerline of any trail

  • No camping within 50 feet of the centerline of any sidewalk inside city limits

  • No camping within a levee critical zone

These restrictions can be found in section 9.45.360 and 9.45.350 in Topeka’s municipal codes. Following approval of the new ordinance in late 2023, city leaders decided to implement it in a ‘phased approach‘ due to factors like the impending winter season and ongoing homeless initiatives. City of Topeka spokeswoman Taylor Bugg reiterated this information following an inquiry from 27 News.

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“This is a standard practice of the city’s Property Maintenance Unit when it comes to violations of Topeka Municipal Code (TMC) and includes notifying residents that they are out of compliance, giving them time to correct the issue, often giving them additional time if they have made improvements, and then following up with enforcement, if needed,” Bugg said.

Part of this phased approach involves the posting of signs at the encampments located between the Topeka Boulevard and Kansas Avenue bridges and on the north side of the Kansas River. These are meant to notify the homeless populations living in the area, which TRM Executive Director La Manda Broyles says consists of around 20 people in total, of the imminent enforcement of the ordinance.

“These signs provide basic information about the ordinance that applies to the encampments,” Bugg said. “Stakeholders at the city and in the community including Water Pollution Control (WPC), the Property Maintenance Unit (PMU), Topeka Police Department (TPD), Public Works (PW), Housing Division and the Topeka Rescue Mission (TRM) are all involved in this process.”

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Broyles says the TRM is making moves to help those impacted by this first stage of the ordinance between the two major Topeka bridges. She says the TRM is still waiting for guidance on what the implementation of the ordinance will look like from city leadership.

“However, we are called to love others and are still committed to working closely with fellow boots on the ground partners to ensure the abatement has a people first focus as much as we are allowed to do so,” Boyles said. “In addition to us wanting to serve others in their time of need, we also want this to be done in a way that keeps our community as safe as possible as well with as limited amounts of unintended consequences that we have expressed concerns about to the governing body and other city leadership.”

Bugg said officers with the TPD’s Behavioral Health Unit will be working alongside TRM staff to notify the homeless living in this area of the ordinance. Abatement of the camps along the river will happen on or around Monday, Feb. 26. This could change depending on weather with full enforcement of the ordinance taking place after this date.

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“The city will proceed enforcing the ordinance in this way and working with residents to get them the resources they need moving forward,” Bugg said.

Broyles said the TRM will look to help the local homeless individuals find new places to take up residence at if no housing options are available to them or they are incapable of relocating anywhere other than the city’s streets. The TRM will continue to conduct “wrap around care” following the cleaning out of the camps between the two bridges to help those who are forced to move by the ordinance.

The City of Topeka recently conducted its annual Point in Time Homeless Count, the results of which have yet to be posted. In last year’s count, it was revealed that Topeka’s homeless population had hit a four-year high. Topekans recently took the time to weigh in on the city’s ‘Homeless Initiative,’ discussing potential solutions wit the TRM, city council and the Boys & Girls Club.

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