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Kansas City hopes increasing housing and outreach work can end homelessness in 5 years

A man in a blue suit with a red bow tie stands by a sign that reads "Zero KC" at the top. In the center at the podium is a man in a blue suit with a pink tie. Two woman, one in a beige blazer and another in a black suit, stand to the right of the podium.
Savannah Hawley
KCUR 89.3
The Kanas City Houseless Taskforce introduced Zero KC at a business session of city council today. The plan aims to end homelessness in the city within five years.

A plan called Zero KC was presented during Kansas City Council’s business session. If implemented, it will guide a variety of actions aimed at ending homelessness in the city.

More than 1,500 people are or have been homeless in Jackson County, Missouri, so far this year. Ahead of the winter months, the Kansas City Council could soon enact a five-year strategic plan that works to lower those numbers.

The city’s Houseless Task Force and the Housing and Community Development Department announced on Thursday a plan called Zero KC, which aims to end homelessness in the city.

One of its main goals is to create 200 new rapid rehousing units for households with children and 300 new housing units for unhoused people in permanent supportive housing programs.

Rayana Parks-Shaw, fifth district council person and chair of the Houseless Taskforce, said the city will also be able to better coordinate services for people experiencing homelessness.

“Many organizations are doing great work by themselves, but because they have limited resources, and they continue to work in silos, they don't necessarily get the overall support that they need,” Parks-Shaw said. “What Zero KC, the strategic plan, will do for us is allow those organizations to stop working in silos. Together we will see the success that we haven't seen before because they've all been working individually.”

The plan also commits to preserving all affordable housing stock for extremely low-income residents.

The success of increasing the housing supply relies in part on the passage of a bond initiative that, if passed, will allow the city to invest up to $50 million in creating and preserving affordable housing. That initiative will be on the Nov. 8 ballot.

Mayor Quinton Lucas said the Housing Trust Fund will also be used to create more than 350 housing units.

“Whether you're folks who are looking for more workforce housing in Kansas City, whether you're folks who are looking for housing and you've been living on the streets, whether there's somewhere in between. That's something that we'll continue to work with,” Lucas said.

However, the city’s commitment to creating affordable housing for extremely low-income people has been called into question by some advocates. An ordinance passed by the city council last month amended the city’s affordable housing policy and alters who qualifies for affordable housing.

Under the new policy, developers must make 20% of their units affordable to households making 60% or less of the median family income instead of the old policy’s requirement that at least 10% of the units be for extremely low-income individuals.

Advocates say the new policy doesn’t ensure an adequate supply of extremely affordable housing. But Lucas said the city remains committed to creating more housing under the new policy.

“We are channeling our highest incentives, our greatest support as a city, to those that are providing and building housing for those who are experiencing housing insecurity or experiencing homelessness,” he said.

A woman with brown curly hair stands in a black suit and pink shirt behind a podium. To her left is a sign that reads "Zero KC" at the top.
Savannah Hawley
KCUR 89.3
Councilperson Rayana Parks-Shaw, chair of the Houseless Taskforce, said the city will be able to better coordinate resources to serve unhoused people under the Zero KC plan.

Another of the plan’s top priorities is decreasing public encampments — but not through camp sweeps. Instead, the Zero KC implementation includes coordinating nonprofits and community groups to address the needs of unhoused people and connect them to social services and healthcare with the ultimate goal of moving them to permanent housing.

Limiting camp sweeps without first conducting in-depth outreach work could conflict with a new Missouri law. The legislation, which went into effect in late August, makes it a Class C misdemeanor for unhoused people to sleep on state-owned land.

Under the law, the Missouri attorney general can sue local governments that don’t enforce regulations on unauthorized public camping. Cities that don’t abide by those bans could lose all state and federal funding for housing and homeless services.

Lucas said he isn’t worried about the state law hindering the city’s homeless outreach efforts.

He called the new law “heinous” and “cruel” and said it is in violation of Missouri’s Hancock Amendment because it would increase the city’s responsibility — in this case, the Kansas City Police Department’s responsibility to sweep camps — without an adequate increase in funding.

“I believe none of us here believe that the city will be exposed to substantial liability by not just clearing encampments at the earliest opportunity as the state law dictates,” Lucas said at a press conference.

“I think we'll be vastly more productive in terms of how we get people housing services, careers, healthcare, and beyond," he said, "rather than the state approach, which is just looking to push people from place to place and continue to make Missouri a difficult place for people to live.”

The mayor also said the city will continue to evaluate other ways to work with the state to help people find housing.

Beyond the Zero KC plan, the city launched a program this week to employ 15 people experiencing homelessness through the Public Works department. The department will pay the workers, employed through Hope Faith Ministries and Creative Innovators, $15 an hour to clean neighborhoods and conduct snow removal.

They will work between 25-30 hours per week and receive job training, bank accounts, IDs and other necessary services.

While Zero KC is a strategic plan meant to guide further action, Parks-Shaw said she is optimistic about the plan’s implementation, which will redirect locally available federal funds towards the effort.

“The first step we will do is seek council overall approval, but then establish an implementation team that will work to establish the milestones,” Parks-Shaw said. “It's a five-year plan. So most of the action happens in the first three years. We know that we will have to continue to update this living and breathing document to adjust to the needs of the city.”

The Houseless Taskforce will hold three public listening sessions on the plan: 9-11 a.m. Sept. 24, 9701 Marion Park Drive; 5-7 p.m. Sept. 26 at 5340 NE Chouteau Trafficway; and 5-7 p.m. Sept. 28 at 3200 Wayne Avenue.

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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