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Kansas City now offers storage for unhoused residents so they don’t have to leave belongings behind

Two people wearing heavy coats and hoods approach a small collection of personal items leaning against a short concrete wall.. There is a rolling suitcase with two blue sleeping bags attached, a round, blue tent folded up and a small fabric bag lying nearby.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Megan Meixner, left, and Larry Williams walk toward their belongings as they prepare to hopefully get on a bus last week near Barney Allis Plaza. The pair, who said they are homeless, said it's constantly a problem finding secure ways to store their belongings as they go about their lives.

Kansas City's homeless shelters only permit people to bring one bag during overnight stays, so a new program will provide 30-gallon bins where people can safely lock away the rest of their belongings and retrieve as needed.

On one recent Friday afternoon, Larry Williams and his companion Megan Meixner carried with them a popup tent, two sleeping bags strapped precariously to a rolling suitcase, and one more bag lying nearby.

Standing at Barney Allis Plaza and 12th Street, the two hoped to get on a bus and figure out where to sleep that night. But they weren’t sure if they could even ride with all the possessions they were hauling.

”Sometimes you can’t really maneuver,” Williams said. “They won’t let you on the bus because you got too much stuff.”

For unhoused residents in Kansas City, lacking a secure place to store belongings is a major obstacle. Most of Kansas City’s shelter allow clients to carry in a single bag of possessions, and residents often say they would rather stay in a tent — even in freezing temperatures — than leave the rest of their belongings behind.

Plus, it’s nearly impossible to attend appointments or job interviews with a pile of luggage on hand.

Williams and Meixner said they’ve experienced multiple thefts in Kansas City, even when they’ve tried to hide their stuff.

“I’m lucky I have him because he takes care of stuff while I do interviews,” Meixner said. “How are you supposed to go to a job interview and carry your stuff around?”

“A lock and key situation would be great,” Meixner added.

A lock and key is actually pretty close to what the Downtown Council and Kansas City’s Parks and Recreation Department are now introducing.

As part of a limited pilot program, the city has begun offering blue, 30-gallon bins where people experiencing homelessness can store their possessions. These bins — similar to residential recycling containers — will then get locked up at an enclosed location near several of the city’s homeless shelters, encampments and other organizations.

Officials are not publicly disclosing the exact location out of security concerns.

The pilot launched last week with 24 bins available to residents, and the city hopes to add 50 more by the end of this week.

Two blue, wheeled recycling-style bins sit outdoors on a brick-paved surface. Signs are affixed to the bins that read "Heart Cart, Personal Storage." A few people can be seen in the background standing around, chatting.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Kansas City will be partnering with the Downtown Council in a pilot program to use these 30-gallon bins for homeless residents to deposit their belongings.

“We know people are reluctant to go to shelters because they didn’t want to lose their things,” said Wallace James, human services coordinator with the Downtown Council.

James said they modeled the program after ones in Austin and San Diego, which have been operating for several years.

“It benefits both people, not only as a city, but the homeless as well, because it keeps the streets a lot cleaner,” James said. “It’s a lot less things people have to store on the streets while they’re sleeping on the streets.”

As the program gets going, James and Kathy Elmore from Hope Faith Homeless Assistance Center plan to visit different camps and areas around the city to meet with unhoused residents. They’ll bring along a trailer full of the bins, so that interested clients can personally hand over belongings to a caseworker — who will then document each person’s items.

Clients can visit their bins to add or remove items on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Those blocks of time will also give people an opportunity to meet with caseworkers, to coordinate any services or follow up on appointments.

Patricia Hernandez with the Greater Kansas City Coalition to End Homelessness says she does expect some hesitancy as the city starts to get the word out.

“I would assume there’s going to be some distrust. Like, ‘Why should I trust you? What have you done for me? I don’t know you. Why would I trust you with all of my things?’” Hernandez suggested.

However, as the winter weather sets in, officials expect it will become even more important for residents to have safe places to store possessions.

“They won’t have to make the tough decision to stay in sub zero temperatures to keep their belongings,” said Kansas City councilwoman Ryana Parks-Shaw in an email. “Now they can seek warm shelter and know their items will be safely stored.”

Deanna Gail Melloy-Valencia says she has been homeless for five years, and lives in a tent at 10th Street and Harrison.

“It’s a step forward and it’s in the right direction,” she said at a city press conference Wednesday to announce the program.

Melloy-Valencia said she didn’t necessarily need the bins herself, thanks to a network of friends who will store her things for her. But she’s excited about what the program will mean for her fellow unhoused residents who don’t want to part with their things.

“They don’t want to leave because they don’t want to lose what they got. They’ve worked hard for it or it’s their memories of their mom or their grandparents.”

She also noted how simply carrying those belongings is a considerable barrier while looking for work.

“If you’re walking down the street, you can’t even get a bus to stop for you as you’re standing at a bus stop because you’ve got too much luggage with you.”

As KCUR’s general assignment reporter and visual journalist, I bring our audience inside the daily stories that matter most to the people of the Kansas City metro, showing how and why events affect residents. Through my photography, I seek to ensure our diverse community sees itself represented in our coverage. Email me at carlos@kcur.org.
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