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Kansas City Set To Evict Homeless Encampment From City Hall On Sunday

Protesters at the "We Shall Not Be Moved" rally on the south lawn of Kansas City city hall listen to speeches Thursday afternoon decrying the potential sweep of the homeless encampment there.
Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
Protesters at the "We Shall Not Be Moved" rally on the south lawn of Kansas City's City Hall listen to speeches late Thursday afternoon decrying the potential sweep of the homeless encampment there.

While the city insists this is not an eviction, a notice posted to the campsite says people who remain past Sunday could be arrested.

Officials gave the eviction notice via the Abraham Lincoln statue in front of City Hall: those living at the homeless encampment had created an "illegal campsite" and if they are there past Sunday they could get arrested.

On Thursday, members from the KC Homeless Union and KC Tenants gathered on the steps in front of that statue to issue their own edict: the camp won't move until their demands are met by the city.

“We want homes. We want jobs. We want water during a pandemic. We demand a seat at the table where they make decisions concerning our lives because those who are closer to the problem are closer to the solution,” said James “Quadafi” Shelby, a leader of KC Homeless Union.

Chris Hernandez, director of the city's communications, said the city has spent the past several weeks reaching out to those living on the lawn, connecting them with services like shelters and letting them know “that it is time for them to take advantage of other facilities.”

Hernandez told KCUR the city will not be evicting people Sunday.

“We have increased outreach over the last few weeks because we do feel that it is time for folks there to take advantage of those social services that are available to them,” Hernandez said.

The city has encouraged occupants of the encampment to use other resources because it has become a public health and safety issue, he said.

“There is a serious problem there with human waste that is piling up, even though we have given them a porta-potty,” Hernandez said.

“We have had to clean human waste out of the fountain area. But more importantly, there are air vents embedded in the lawn of City Hall that provide fresh air for the building, and we have had to clean human waste from there,” he said.

Hernandez said the city is not performing a sweep of the camp.

“It’s not a crime to be homeless,” he said. “This is about getting people into services, extending a helping hand so they can find the help that they need because they can get better help at an established shelter or agency than they can on the lawn of City Hall.”

Shelby said they want homes, not shelters.

“What do shelters do?” Shelby asked the crowd. “Shelters is in the business of staying in business off of us being homeless. Why are we paying them to keep us homeless?”

Since the union occupied the lawn in February, city leadership has been supportive of the need to do more for the them, Hernandez said.

In March, the city manager’s office suggested $111,495 be allocated to the Office of the Tenant Advocate in the new budget. After backlash from groups like KC Tenants, the city ended up giving the Office of the Tenant Advocate almost $1 million, supplementing the proposed funds with $820,000 from federal resources.

This week, the city announced the Land Bank Dollar Sale. Under the program, nonprofits can apply to purchase derelict city-owned property for one dollar, with the stipulation that the property be renovated and provided to the houseless or those in low-income brackets.

The city council is also in discussion for creating a stand-alone housing department that would focus on houselessness and tenant advocacy.

But Shelby said the city isn’t doing enough, and promised the encampment wouldn’t leave until their demands were met.

“Our city officials do not have our back. If our city officials had our back, we would not be in a fight. We would have homes. We would have everything we need," he said. "The system is not broke. It’s doing exactly what it’s designed to do.”

Lulu, a member of KC Homeless Union who has lived at the City Hall encampment for over a month, said she hopes the community rallies behind the union on Sunday.

“We are hoping to get a good response from the community to really help mitigate any sort of negative circumstances that could occur,” she said.

Lukas Kenney is a news intern for KCUR 89.3. You can reach him on Twitter @kenney_lukas.
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