OPINION | Letter to the Editor

October 7, 2020
Letter to the Editor,

I am writing to address an issue that is becoming increasingly problematic in Lee’s Summit, and most particularly in the historic downtown area – the growing homeless population. As a property owner with a general utility easement and storm water sewer easement behind my house, I will be writing from that perspective.

Recently, although I am not entirely sure for exactly how long as we have a wooden privacy fence on our back property line that abuts to chain link fencing with our neighbors on both sides, this easement has become a refuge for homeless persons to sleep. There is a shed near the back fence, the area they mostly prefer is behind where the shed is located and blocks our view of the easement.

Three nights ago, the cover to our dog door located on the garage door was lying in our driveway. I attributed it to perhaps the dog inadvertently knocking it off, my husband has always been somewhat concerned that someone wanting to rob us could gain access to the house through the dog door.

The next night while we were sitting on our patio, my husband noticed a young male behind the fence and went to speak to him. He had items with him that made it clear he was homeless, and was urinating in the open. My husband was able to get him to leave, letting him know that while he empathized with the young man’s situation, we did not want him sleeping 50 feet away from the back of our house behind our fence.

Yesterday morning, our neighbor who has a chain link fence along the back of her property line saw an older man sleeping in the same spot behind where our shed is located. He was in a sleeping bag of some kind, had a water jug next to him. We called the police thinking surely there was some either ordinance or policy of allowed and non-allowed uses for easements.

Two police officers made a CAD call. One officer spent at least 20 minutes behind the fence talking to the man. When the officers spoke to us and our neighbor, we were told that not only could they not arrest him, but that they had no authority to make him leave, and he absolutely refused to leave. They were familiar with this man and told us not to be directly confrontational with him. It was suggested we could try do things to make it a less desirable location for him or other homeless persons to wish to sleep there such as motion lights, watering at odd times or things along those lines.

Yesterday late afternoon, my husband affixed a sprinkler head to a long garden hose, turned on the water and aimed it so the water went over the fence in the area where the man was sleeping. Immediate yelling ensued with the homeless man calling my husband a lot of names. My husband again said he was sorry about his situation but please move on. The homeless man yelled at my husband to turn the water off, and then said it was possible our house could burn down that night. The water was turned off and we did not attempt any further deterrents. Since this was a distinct threat, we called the police again.

Two different police officers came out. Before they went behind the fence, they informed us it sounded like a man named “Tim” with whom they were also familiar with. We told the officers of his threat. Both officers went behind the fence, again for at least 20 minutes. The outcome was the same, they could not make him leave. I requested that they make an official report of this incident. It is extremely nerve-wracking and unsettling to be in fear for your personal safety, your property, even your life. As is common knowledge, part of the homeless population, not just here in Lee’s Summit but in general across the board, have drug and/or mental health issues. No one can be sure what someone with those problems might do when you, and the police, are trying to get them to leave. We were not able to sleep.

I have e-mailed Mayor Baird but have not had a response. I filled out a codes violation form. Yesterday morning I had a personal visit from Tracy Deister, Assistant Director of Codes Administration. He agreed the homeless situation is problematic, he sympathized with us, but currently there seems to be no code in place to help us mitigate what is happening. He suggested in a newer subdivision this would not be an issue and perhaps the answer is that the City of Lee’s Summit needs to erect chain link fencing all along the storm sewer with no trespassing signs.

In doing some research on my own, I came across the City of Lee’s Summit Encroachment Policy with an attached Revised Exhibit A Encroachment Policy Schedule of Non Allowed, Allowed and Conditional Uses for various types of easements.

It is interesting to note that for a general utility easement and a water/sewer easement, proposed uses that are not allowed are, to name a few:
• Animal Pens
• Flag Poles (this one is even underlined)
• Private Lighting
• Mail Boxes
• Recreational Items (Basketball, Skateboard, etc.)
• Private Signs and Monuments

And yet the city is allowing an easement campground to exist behind our property.

The City of Lee’s Summit needs to correct this as soon as possible, with either an enforceable ordinance, adding a non allowed use of an easement to include not allowing homeless persons to set up camp indefinitely or forever, also somehow enforceable, installing a fence along the storm sewer, or any and all of these things. I will also be contacting my two City Council representatives, Diane Forte and Hillary Shields.

We do not want to have to call the police out repeatedly, but even if we are fearful of retaliation, the police are not going to be able to assist us unless and until some action is taken against us or our property. If it is property damage, it is unlikely we can prove who caused it anyway.

By Kelly Storey
Lee’s Summit