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Kansas City has a plan for 80 more shelter beds, but some Historic Northeast neighbors don’t want it

A man in a blue blazer and pants stands holding a microphone in the left foreground. To the right, in front of the man, is a crowd of about 50 people sitting and standing along a room.
Savannah Hawley-Bates
KCUR 89.3
At a meeting to discuss low-barrier shelter plans, City Manager Brian Platt said he thinks Hope Faith will be the first of many such shelters throughout Kansas City.

Kansas City, Missouri, has a plan to allocate federal funds to expand an existing shelter and turn it into the city’s only 24/7, low-barrier homeless shelter. Some residents of the Historic Northeast, where the shelter is located, say they were left out of the decision-making process.

John Bordeau knows Pendleton Heights has a long history of supporting unhoused people, but he doesn’t think his Kansas City neighborhood can handle any more strain.

On Wednesday night, he was among more than 50 people gathered at the Northeast Kansas City Chamber of Commerce to oppose a plan that would expand a low-barrier homeless shelter in the Historic Northeast.

“This isn't a debate about whether the houseless deserve attention and services, because they do. It is a debate about where is it going to be,” Bordeau said. “This solution needs to be citywide and it's got to happen in some other places.”

The plan would give the Hope Faith shelter more than $7 million in federal funds to expand its Homeless Assistance Campus, at Admiral Boulevard and Virginia Avenue, and create an 80-bed shelter that is open 24/7. The proposed ordinance, introduced by Mayor Quinton Lucas last week, has yet to be discussed by the Kansas City Council, and Wednesday’s meeting was part of the city’s engagement process.

Some residents of the surrounding neighborhoods told several councilmembers and City Manager Brian Platt they weren’t included in the city’s decision-making, and they don’t want it to be the only low-barrier shelter in the city. Some don’t want a low-barrier shelter in the Northeast at all, and others voiced concern about the effects it would have on surrounding neighborhoods.

Residents and staff of Hope Faith, though, asked neighbors to give the expanded shelter a chance.

“I've been a resident of Shelter KC, City Union Mission, and Hope Faith,” said Gregorio Reynoso, who is part of the organization's partnership with the city to employ unhoused people for beautification work. “Hope Faith never turned their back on me, other shelters have. That's why all of us go to Hope Faith. We can better ourselves if we have more funding.”

The money for the shelter would come from American Rescue Plan funds that are dedicated to decreasing homelessness.

Though low-barrier shelters already exist in Kansas City — Hope Faith operates as one between Dec. 1 and March 1 under the city’s cold weather response plan, and is otherwise a low-barrier shelter during the day — the effort to create a year-round one began in fall 2022 as part of the city’s Zero KC plan to end homelessness.

Unlike many shelters, low-barrier operations do not require residents to participate in religious activities, maintain sobriety, or leave their belongings, which often include electronics and pets, behind.

Doug Langner, executive director of Hope Faith, said expanding the shelter would help keep people from sleeping outside year-round, “not just in the coldest months.”

“Low-barrier does not mean no structure,” Langner said. “In fact, a good low-barrier shelter, when you walk in the door, has high structure.”

“There's a lot of things we can work out — but do not forget the faces and names of everyone who is experiencing homelessness today. If it were you, you'd be desperate too,” he said.

Melissa Robinson and Melissa Patterson-Hazley, who represent Kansas City’s 3rd District and the Historic Northeast on City Council, said they were blindsided by the plan to name Hope Faith as the recipient of the shelter funding. They told attendees they want the ordinance dropped.

“It's about, not what you do, but it's about how you do it,” Robinson said. “And the ‘how’ has been all wrong from the very start.”

Instead, Robinson said she wants the city to add local money to the federal funds and create multiple low-barrier shelters throughout the city at the same time.

“We passed the (Zero KC) plan saying that we would not put a low-barrier shelter in place without a significant neighborhood cohesion effort,” Robinson said.

Many attendees asked City Manager Brian Platt to reissue the request for proposals to fund the shelter, which would halt plans to expand Hope Faith.

Platt, meanwhile, said the city does want more accessible shelters throughout the city, and that Hope Faith is just the beginning. He also maintained the projected capacity of the shelter would not overburden the neighborhood.

“If we can get everyone into a single place, or single places around the city, we can more easily provide services, provide support, get people jobs, get people housing — do all the things that these people need in one safe and secure location,” he said.

Platt noted there were multiple applicants for the funding, but Hope Faith was the only one that met the federal requirements.

“We have shelter space around the city,” he said. “We have empty beds in those shelters because of all the barriers and restrictions.”

The ARP money that would fund the expansion has to be committed by the end of this year. The proposed ordinance is set to be discussed at the Finance, Governance and Public Safety Committee meeting on Jan. 31.

Updated: January 19, 2024 at 1:17 PM CST
A previous version of this story included a different date for the Kansas City Council committee to consider the ordinance. The committee deferred until Jan. 31.
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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