SIOUX CITY, Iowa (KCAU) — A homeless encampment under a Sioux City train bridge went up in flames Thursday afternoon, prompting questions about the crime rate among the homeless population in recent months.
Under the LG Everist railroad bridge, crossing the Floyd River north of the Gordon Drive Bypass, a fire broke out Thursday at around 12 p.m.
The investigation is ongoing but fire officials told KCAU that they believe those staying under the bridge were packed up and about to leave the area when the flames grew out of control.
“Well anytime the weather gets cold like it is now, we do have an issue with some of the population trying to find shelter,” Officer Andrew Dutler said.
A similar incident happened in October 2019 on the Box-Culvert bridge. That fire, which also ignited in a homeless encampment, cost more than 1 million dollars to repair.
“Oftentimes we look for diversion of criminal mischief, for more of those humanitarian approaches,” Dutler said.
Meaning, the department tried taking people off the streets to places like the Gospel Mission or the Warming Shelter.
“The police have brought us so many people, and have gone out of their way trying to help. We are very fortunate. They are good at diffusing situations, they’re good at their job, but truly they care,” Gospel Mission Director Paul Mahaffie said.
But oddly enough the number who stay has gone down.
“We’ve seen a downturn in the actual numbers of people staying with us,” said Mahaffie.
Pre COVID-19, it wasn’t uncommon for The Gospel Mission to house around 144 people. Now, that number has dropped to nearly 100.
Mahaffie said he isn’t quite sure why fewer people are residing at the mission. It may be partially due to the fact that they have been able to find a home for more people this year.
Another factor shared was that there are a lot of rules.
“Rules. There’s a lot of individuals that would rather have their alcohol, their drugs, their freedom to do those things,” said Mahaffie.
But for the most part, he said your guess is as good as his.
For now, Sioux City P.D. and shelters like The Gospel Mission are just trying to get as many people off the streets and away from trouble as they can.
“We’re constantly looking for a referral source, to take care of these people’s needs. Again, whether that be food, water, shelter, we’re looking to take them places where they aren’t necessarily dealing with the criminal justice system,” said Dutler.