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Ahead of winter, Kansas City launches plan to track available beds in homeless shelters

Ryana Parks-Shaw
Bek Shackelford-Nwanganga
Kansas City Councilwoman Ryana Parks-Shaw speaks at the City Union Mission Community Assistance Center, surrounded by boxes of winter clothing donations for unhoused people.

To make aid for unhoused residents more accessible, Kansas City has introduced an online dashboard that tracks available beds in overnight facilities. The city also announced a consolidated drop-off point for donations to local shelters.

As winter approaches, Kansas City officials say they are preparing to help people experiencing homelessness. On Monday, the city debuted an online dashboard that provides information on the availability of beds at overnight facilities.

Deputy City Manager Kimiko Black Gilmore said the dashboard, which is updated daily, will also help the city know when shelters have reached capacity.

“If private shelters are full,” Black Gilmore said, “the city will open one or two temporary locations, based on the need.”

These temporary shelters would be located in community centers and are part of Kansas City’s Extreme Weather Activation Plan. The city will implement the program when the daytime high is below 32 degrees or nighttime temperatures drop below 20 degrees.

In addition to overflow shelters, the plan activates a hotline operated by the KCMO Emergency Operations Center, which will help callers find a bed and transportation to shelters. Ride KC will offer free bus rides to shelters in heated buses.

Ryana Parks-Shaw, 5th District councilwoman and chair of the Houseless Task Force, said for people who do not have internet or a smartphone to access the dashboard, the task force will distribute in person business cards listing contact information and addresses for private shelters.

The city is partnering with local organizations rather than providing overnight shelter, like it did at Bartle Hall last year, Parks-Shaw said.

Parks-Shaw said problems at Bartle Hall, as well as survey responses from unhoused people, made the city aware of how understaffed many private shelters are, and how donations should be organized to ensure they reach people in need.

Winter donation items
Bek Shackelford-Nwanganga
KCUR 89.3
Winter donation items spill out of a box.

The Keep Caring Kansas City Foundation, which provides winter clothing and other necessities for homeless people, is currently looking for monetary donations. The fund was founded by Parks-Shaw in collaboration with United Way and the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation.

Parks-Shaw said the city understands shelters are not for everyone, and people on the street have needs that must be met, too.

The city has allocated $650,000 to help shelters hire sufficient staff. Additionally, a consolidated drop-off location for donation items has been created by shelters and advocates. The drop-off location will be hosted by City Union Mission at its Community Assistance Center on 1700 E. 8th St.

City Union Mission CEO Terry Megli said a storage container and two trailers have been donated to store emergency supplies.

“For 97 years we have supported the poor and homeless community to ensure our guests feel safe, secure, valued and respected,” Megli said in a press release. “We are now blessed to be providing space for storage of emergency supplies for the street homeless, as part of the city's Extreme Weather Initiative."

Storage container City Union Mission
Bek Shackelford-Nwanganga
KCUR 89.3
Inside the storage container at the City Union Mission Community Assistance Center.

Drop-offs can be made Monday through Friday from noon to 6 p.m. and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon. Winter wear, sleeping bags, blankets, hand and foot warmers, and tents are needed. It is strongly encouraged that items be new or like new and folded and placed in a box before drop off, as bags are hard to stack.

“Our outreach teams will be working to take those much needed supplies that will be donated here and possibly purchased with the Keep Caring KC Fund out to those individuals directly to them to keep them warm and safe this winter,” Parks-Shaw said.

Bek Shackelford-Nwanganga is a freelance reporter for KCUR 89.3.
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