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Kansas City planned to open a low-barrier homeless shelter. After criticism, it’s starting over

A man in a black puffer coat stands in an open room with cots filling it.
Savannah Hawley-Bates
KCUR 89.3
Hundreds of people fill Hope Faith's shelter during the cold winter months, when it operates as a low barrier shelter and fills every available space with cots. Executive director Doug Langner says dozens more people could be off the street year-round if low-barrier space was expanded.

Kansas City was set to approve using federal dollars to expand Hope Faith into the city's first year-round low barrier homeless shelter. After months of complaints from residents, the city is restarting the application process.

It’s going to take longer than planned to get started on Kansas City’s first year-round low-barrier homeless shelter after opposition from nearby neighborhoods spun the proposal off track.

Following months of contentious debate and public outcry, the Kansas City Council voted 8-2 Thursday to restart the application process to build a low-barrier shelter — a type of homeless shelter that is accessible to everyone regardless of race, religion, sobriety, gender or other condition.

The council’s action means that Hope Faith, a nonprofit that provides shelter and services to unhoused Kansas Citians, will have to reapply for more than $7 million in federal funds it was initially granted through the city. Hope Faith and other organizations will have 30 days to apply, after which the city will consider the proposals and move forward.

The reversal dismayed Hope Faith executive director Doug Langner.

“Every time that a solution (to homelessness) has come before our city, we've chosen to not do anything,” he said in advance of Thursday’s council meeting. “And I don't think anyone wants the status quo to be the same.”

The original plan would have enabled Hope Faith to expand its campus at Admiral Boulevard and Virginia Avenue and create an 80-bed shelter that is open around the clock.

To use the American Rescue Plan funds the chosen shelter must be non-congregate, giving each person their own private room and bathroom. And it must be accessible to all clientele. Hope Faith was one of the only original applicants to meet those requirements.

Councilmember Jonathan Duncan voted against the ordinance. At Thursday’s City Council meeting, he said the original proposal process had extensive conversation already.

“We talk a lot about assisting our houseless folks here in the city,” Duncan said. “We talk a lot about reducing the burden on our small business owners, on our KCATA drivers. We talk a lot about the things that we're going to do for the most vulnerable members of our community."

Duncan said that reversing the original proposal "flies in the face of all of that.”

Councilmember Melissa Robinson, who represents the 3rd District, where Hope Faith is located, was absent. Robinson opposed the original proposal and said the city didn’t seek enough community feedback before moving forward with the original shelter plan.

Those concerns were echoed by some residents of the surrounding neighborhoods in the Historic Northeast. They said they weren’t included in the original decision designating Hope Faith as the recipient of the federal funds.

Opponents of the original plan said they didn’t want the Northeast to house the only shelter of this type in the city. They want the City Council to designate multiple low barrier shelters across Kansas City. Others don’t want a low-barrier shelter in the Northeast at all.

Langner said Hope Faith plans to reapply and will take the constructive feedback it’s heard from community members into consideration.

“If there really are other folks out there that want to step forward, we've always been open for that,” he said. “There can't be one solution. But what I hope is not missed is, let's do something for people that are outside. I mean, it's way beyond time.”

Langner said expanding Hope Faith won’t necessarily bring more unhoused people to the Northeast. He said shelters are located there because that’s where unhoused people already are.

“Homeless people do not go to homeless places based off of council districts,” Langner said at a City Council committee meeting Wednesday. “They go where they’re accepted, they go where they’re welcomed and they go where they feel safe. Hope Faith is one of those places. That’s why we put a plan forward. We need to act now.”

The original request for proposals was put forth last year as part of the city’s Zero KC plan, established in 2022, which aims to end homelessness in five years. The city has to commit to a shelter plan by the end of this year to secure the federal money.

As part of the new request for proposals, the city’s Housing and Community Development Department will hold workshops on how to apply and what the requirements are.

At the committee meeting, which advanced the resolution to redo the proposal search, Councilmember Crispin Rea said he saw the reboot as an opportunity to hear plans from all sides of the city and work to create multiple low barrier shelters.

“Everyone understands we've got to start somewhere,” Rea said. “However, I think there's a way we can go about this where we are more collaborative with the neighborhood folks.”

When news breaks, it can be easy to rely on officials and people in power to get information fast. As KCUR’s general assignment and breaking news reporter, I want to bring you the human faces of the day’s biggest stories. Whether it’s a local shop owner or a worker on the picket line, I want to give you the stories of the real people who are driving change in the Kansas City area. Email me at savannahhawley@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @savannahhawley.
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