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In Kansas City's extreme cold, staying warm is 'about life or death.' Here’s where to take shelter

Outdoors photo showing snow-covered grounds separated by a plowed street. In the foreground there is a tree branch covered in snow. In background a person is seen walking in the snow.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
A pedestrian walks along Warwick Boulevard on Tuesday morning where surrounded by trees heavy with snow-covered branches.

Due to the extreme cold, Kansas City, Missouri, activated its emergency cold weather plan. Ten shelters across the city will add more capacity to their existing space. Other shelters and warming centers around the region will open to keep people warm.

More people have been able to access the Kansas City, Missouri, network of shelters this week because of the city’s $1.3 million cold weather response plan.

“Last night, in our really, really cold night, we hit 165 people,” said Doug Langner, executive director of Hope Faith, which operates a low-barrier overnight shelter in the winter.

Kansas City’s extreme weather plan, part of the city’s Zero KC plan to end homelessness, adds extra space to existing shelters and has other organizations open as shelters when it gets this cold. Together, these 10 shelters added capacity for 450 additional people.

Langner said this weekend his facility has added extra cots and mats anywhere they can find space, so people don’t stay in the cold.

“We didn't leave anyone out there. In this type of weather, it's about life or death — it’s about limb,” he said. “It’s about being safe.”

The cold is especially exhausting and dangerous for people who don’t have a permanent place to go. Langer said low-barrier shelters like Hope Faith — which also provides services to unhoused people year-round — don’t deny anyone entry, and they don’t make people attend seminars or prayer sessions to stay there.

The goal is to get as many people as possible out of the cold and to treat any health issues caused by the weather, he said. Hope Faith has doctors on hand to catch frostbite early, and everyone gets a hot meal.

When people come to Hope Faith to escape the elements, they could get matched with another shelter that better suits their needs, Langer said. Last night, the shelter bused about 60 people to alternate shelters — they were bussed back in the morning to ensure no one was further displaced.

Still, some people don’t want to go to shelters and see them as restrictive or punitive.

Langer said Hope Faith works to ensure everyone can “come as you are,” and he hopes some first-time guests at the city’s network of shelters get access to resources they’ve been missing.

“No one wants to have to ask for help,” Langer said. “There are people that are maybe hesitant to go into a shelter. Sometimes this cold weather is that push that they need. What we're trying to create is a safe, restful environment for everyone that walks in our door.”

Antonio Mourning has been without permanent housing for more than six years. On Saturday, he was getting lunch and a cup of coffee at Nourish KC, a Hope Faith partner.

Last winter, Mourning lost his left pinky finger to frostbite. He says this year, it’s been a little easier to find shelter.

“As long as they can shelter me from the cold, we’re in good business,” Mourning said. “It’s better than nothing. It’s better than being out there on the streets.”

A concrete staircase leading to a park is covered in snow
Savannah Hawley-Bates
KCUR 89.3
The frigid temperatures can cause frostbite in minutes. Community centers and libraries are open to stay warm during the day, and shelters are increasing capacity for overnight stays.

Mourning spent Friday night at the Legends, in Kansas City, Kansas, riding the buses to stay warm.

He said the assistance from shelters and community groups help him stay warm in the short term and get back on track in the long term.

“People keep giving me resources and I try to use them,” Mourning said.

Langer says the city’s cold weather plan, which provided funding to hire more staff and increase capacity, was key in making sure shelters and other groups had ample time to prepare for this season’s frigid temperatures.

“Unlike other years, we had a contract signed before we opened,” Langer said. “They were able to help us so we can get good talent to care for the people. It takes people to do this.”

Kansas City’s cold weather plan allows for Hope Faith to operate as a low-barrier shelter in the winter months, but Langer wants the city to pass funding to treat homelessness as a priority in every season.

“I think we're going to have a good winter,” Langer said. “But I also think we're having conversations to say, ‘Does this really need to be an emergency thing every winter? Can we put some infrastructure in place so that people have a safe, warm place, 365 days a year?’”

The Kansas City metro area is under a wind chill warning until Tuesday, Jan. 16, as northwest winds bring arctic air into the region. The National Weather Service predicts wind gusts as high as 50 mph, in addition to ice and up to two inches of snow.

For people outside, the wind chill could make forecasted temperatures of negative-10 degrees on Sunday and negative-8 degrees on Monday feel like negative-35 degrees.

Local officials and health care experts urge people to stay inside and keep warm, or risk frostbite. People who have nowhere to go or cannot get inside during the cold can find refuge at city shelters like Hope Faith and community centers operating as warming places during the day.

Here are some places open to the public during the bitter cold:

Jackson County

Kansas City, Missouri, shelters open overnight:

City officials recommend checking in at Hope City, Hope Faith, True Light or Unity Southeast before dropping in at any of the shelters listed below. Those organizations will direct people to the shelter with space available that best suits their needs.

Kansas City, Missouri, community centers (open during normal business hours):

Eastern Jackson County warming centers (open during normal business hours):

Wyandotte County

Wyandotte County shelters open overnight:

Wyandotte County warming centers (open during normal business hours):

Johnson County

Johnson County shelters open overnight:

Johnson County warming centers (open during normal business hours):

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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