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Kansas City Homeless Find Beds At Bartle Hall But Organizers Call It A Band-Aid Solution

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Laura Ziegler
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KCUR 89.3
One of Bartle Hall's exhibition rooms will provide shelter for the homeless until March 31. This was the first weekend and more than 150 people came for a bed.

The convention center will now be a temporary shelter as more people find themselves without permanent homes due to the economic impact of the pandemic.

It was still dark Sunday morning when William, 50, was among the first to descend the escalator from the cavernous exhibit room at Bartle Hall that, in more normal times, he might visit for a home show.

Over the weekend, he and some 150 other people without houses of their own spent the night on rows of cots with pillows and blankets provided by Kansas City, Missouri.

“Right now, I’m homeless,” said William, who asked that KCUR only use his first name. “I came from Topeka with my girlfriend, but we’re not together right now. I don’t know anybody here, so this is all I have to go to.”

It was the first open weekend for the Bartle Hall Scott Eicke Warming Center, a temporary shelter at 13th and Central in downtown Kansas City for those who are facing pandemic-related economic hardship.

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Laura Ziegler
Curtis Cunningham recently suffered a small stroke and lost his job in construction. He said he had his first good night in a long time at Bartle Hall with a cushioned cot, blanket and a TV.

Curtis Cunningham, 55, lost his job on a construction site six months ago.

“(Construction work) has about all dried up now,” Cunningham said, as he headed for the bus stop with a red canvas tote over his shoulder. “I’ve never been in a place like this before, but here I am, what can I say.”

The Scott Eicke center is named in memory of a 41-year-old man who froze to death on New Year’s Day. It will replace the warming center at the Garrison Community Center, a 65-bed shelter in Columbus Park that became too small to accommodate the growing need.

'Just a Band-Aid"

The Bartle Hall facility is the brainchild of Anton Washington, Executive Director of Creative Innovative Entrepreneurs.

In lengthy Facebook posts this weekend, Washington criticized Kansas City officials and some housing non-profits for their current responses to homelessness.

He cited the work of grassroots organizations and volunteers who have donated resources and time to open both the Garrison and now, Bartle Hall centers.

Barbara Gillard, 31, an activist with Creative Innovative Entrepreneurs was at Bartle Hall until 1 a.m. Sunday and back before 6 a.m.

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Laura Ziegler
Community organizers and activists are registering guests at Bartle Hall and are taking the lions share of the responsibility to maintain the site.

Referring to a Friday press conference on the opening of the new center at Bartle Hall, Gillard said it shouldn’t take someone freezing to death for officials to acknowledge the need for these overflow facilities.

“This is just a Band-Aid,” she said. “It’s easy (for city officials) to be excited when they sleep in their own home. I wish they’d prioritize our guests as much as they prioritize developers of luxury apartments.”

Just last week, the Kansas City Council approved an ordinance that would require developers who receive tax breaks from the city to include a minimum number of affordable units, but the measure won't take effect until this spring.

Questions remain

Over the weekend, social media buzzed with concerns about whether the city is using resources judiciously during a time when departments are being asked to cut back. The grassroots Revolutionary Black Panther Party has volunteered to police the city-owned property. Critics worry this creates a liability for the city.

Some expressed concern placing a homeless shelter in the heart of downtown will have a chilling effect on the thriving commercial and residential community.

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Laura Ziegler
William Mobley worked in the restaurant industry and was laid off during the pandemic shut down. He says he knows he won't always be homeless.

Kenneth Mobely was helping clear the trash early Sunday morning after spending the night at Bartle Hall. Nobody wants to be homeless, he said.

“I don’t know what to say to people who don’t want (us) in their community,” he chuckled. “I don’t want to be evil but ... I’d say, move.”

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