Homeless in Hannibal: Small town experiences big city problem

A big city problem is becoming a growing issue in America's Hometown.

Homeless people in Hannibal are on the rise, but it's a problem that's difficult to track.

The Hannibal Police Department reported a 150 percent increase in the numbers they've dealt with in the past year. The problem looks to get even worse this year. The police department logged a total of interactions with 31 different homeless people last year. In the first month and a half so far this year they've reported 20.

Recently Douglass Community Services participated in the nation's bi-annual homeless count. The count is done by officials at Douglass Community Services who call around to area organizations and churches to count numbers of homeless people they're dealing with. During the February count, officials identified 30 homeless people in Hannibal alone.

But those numbers most likely are even greater than anyone realizes and are getting worse.

The street is home

Joe has called the streets of Hannibal home for 20 years.

"When I first got to hannibal there was 10 or 11 people homeless in the summer," he said. "Now there is as many as 40 or more during the summer."

Homelessness is difficult to track. Like Joe, many live wherever they can from underneath bridges to abandoned buildings and caves. There are even cardboard box "villages" where groups of homeless people live together.

Others make a nightly journey to sleep at the city's homeless shelter the Hope House. Others seek shelter with family and friends.

While Hannibal's one-day February homeless count reports numbers at around 30 people, the count is much higher in the summer months when weather is better for those who live on the streets.

Ronn Pashia runs the Loaves and Fishes program, providing meals for many of them every night during the week.

"It breaks my heart that a human being is so uncared about and uncared for that they can't find shelter in America's Hometown," Pashia said.

Pashia experienced the growth in homeless people. The people he meets have many different stories about how they came to live on the streets. Some are transients. Others are just traveling through the area on their way to a better life or new job and fell on hard times. Others just hit hard times and need a hand up.

"I'm not going to be one of those people who says God helps people who help themselves," Pashia said. "Because a lot of times those people are in a situation where they don't know what to do."

Others who don't want the rules of a shelter, homelessness is a lifestyle choice, according to Hannibal Police Chief Lyndell Davis. But no matter what the reason, it's bringing some big-city problems.

Hard to track

With little to no statistics to track year-to-year homeless rates, officials rely on their own experience and anecdotal evidence of the city's homeless population.

"We've seen exponential increases in the last few years, especially in the last year or two," Davis said. "Last year, our increase from everything from our transporting people to homeless shelters to us taking calls from people who've been victimized by the homeless with calls about the homeless causing property damage or disorderly conduct have increased 150 percent in just over a year."

No matter the reason for the increase, numbers of homeless people like Joe are living on the streets.

"I don't know what to tell everybody. I just know there needs to be something done to help the homeless," Joe said.