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Kansas City considers options to shelter homeless people as freezing temperatures loom

A woman sits with her belongings near City Market Park last December just as the temperatures began a steep decline.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
A woman sits with her belongings near City Market Park last December as temperatures began falling.

City officials said the plan is a "first step" to sheltering its estimated 3,000 people experiencing homelessness.

Kansas City is gearing up to shelter homeless people as winter approaches.

The city’s houseless task force presented both permanent and temporary housing solutions to the Kansas City Council on Thursday as temperatures dropped outside.

Councilwoman Ryana Parks-Shaw, the task force’s chair, said the city needed to establish plans that will stretch beyond this winter for the city’s approximately 3,000 people experiencing homelessness.

“We are working very diligently and with a sense of urgency to establish this plan for cold weather,” Parks-Shaw said. “We are hoping to establish a plan that can be utilized in other extreme weather issues as our unhoused folks are just as much at risk in the hot weather as well.”

Earlier this year, freezing temperatures prompted the city to open a temporary warming center at Bartle Hall to provide overnight shelter to Kansas City’s homeless people. That space, however, is no longer available.

Parks-Shaw said the city will be changing its approach this winter by prioritizing existing shelters.

“Rather than the city focusing on trying to create a new shelter space, we found that we could be more effective if we provide additional support to those agencies who are already providing the service and have the expertise and skill to be able to do that,” Parks-Shaw said.

That strategy includes improving collaboration with existing shelters to ensure that all available beds and resources are being used. The city plans to launch an online dashboard that will note bed availability at all the area’s shelters every day.

The task force is also working to identify other community centers or spaces to use when extreme weather or other emergencies exhaust the number of shelter beds available.

The city will also be working with other partners across the area, including the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority, which will provide warming buses, to offer additional services. Parks-Shaw said that option is especially important for those who do not want to stay in a shelter.

The other strategy will be to create permanent housing options to reduce the number of people experiencing homelessness in the long term. The task force presented a few of these proposals at Thursday’s meeting.

One is to convert a vacant hotel into single-room occupancy housing for people who are homeless or at risk of experiencing homelessness. The city would spend $1.3 million to acquire and operate the Days Inn Hotel on Linwood Boulevard and Quincy Avenue.

A navigation center would be put in place at the hotel to connect residents with social services like job placement and medical treatment. Roughly 100 people and families could be housed at the hotel.

Another option is to spend $1 million to install 30 “tiny homes” in collaboration with and near Hope Faith, a homeless assistance provider on Admiral Boulevard and Virginia Avenue. A similar proposal was delayed this summer amid concerns by residents about the proximity of the tiny homes to their neighborhoods.

The last option would provide $300,000 in funding to the nonprofit Amethyst Place to expand its services, creating about 30 permanent affordable housing units for single mothers and their children.

Some council members were concerned that the plans wouldn’t provide enough support to people experiencing homelessness, but the city’s task force said now was the time to act.

“There are things that we could have done early on in the year that we weren't able to do because there wasn't that support,” Assistant City Manager Kimiko Gilmore said. “If we continue to kick the can down the road, we're never going to get to a point where we can serve our homeless the way we need to.”

An ordinance authorizing the city to execute contracts for the new housing proposals will go before the Finance, Governance and Public Safety committee next week.

More than ever, education lies at the intersection of equity, housing, funding, and other diverse issues facing Kansas City’s students, families and teachers. As KCUR’s education reporter, I’ll break down the policies driving these issues in schools and report what’s happening in our region's classrooms. You can reach me at jodifortino@kcur.org.
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