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Underground homeless camp cleared near the East Bottoms

Updated: 2013-04-11T08:30:14Z

By MATT CAMPBELL

The Kansas City Star

Kansas City police, a local charity and other city departments on Friday cleared out and filled in a complex of elaborate tunnels and holes at a homeless camp near the East Bottoms.

“One of the tunnels probably went 20 to 25 feet underground towards the back and veered off in another direction about six feet or so, and there was some bedding and some candles,” said Officer Jason Cooley, community interaction officer for the East Patrol. “It was kind of in a little hill and probably four feet beneath the surface.”

Another tunnel dropped about five feet into the ground before shooting off laterally for seven or eight feet. Many of the holes were concealed. At least one had wood stacked around it and others were bare earth. PVC pipe provided ventilation. What especially concerned Cooley was a pile of recently soiled diapers, indicating the presence of children.

The camp was north and east of the athletic fields at 6500 E. St. John Ave. Another shanty-type camp was nearby.

Police and volunteers from Hope Faith Ministries first visited the camps on Tuesday to advise the residents they had to clear out by Friday. After repeated visits, they encountered only four people, but it was obvious that many others lived there. Cooley said three of the four either accepted services offered or said they would.

On Friday, city public works crews used a Bobcat to close up the tunnels and holes after they were searched by a police robot with a camera. Representatives from the Department of Veterans Affairs also were on hand to offer services. Animal Control came because police had reason to think there might be a dangerous pit bull on site, but they did not encounter one.

Cooley said neither he nor the people from Hope Faith Ministries had ever seen such a camp.

It was found while police were investigating copper thefts in the industrial area of the East Bottoms, some of which are very costly. Police have previously encountered evidence of copper thefts at other camps and think some homeless people are responsible for some thefts and may serve as lookouts for larger theft operatives.

To reach Matt Campbell, call 816-234-4902 or send email to mcampbell@kcstar.com.

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