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The Head Of Kansas City's Emergency Shelter Says It's 'Always Lacked Appropriate Funding'

Chelsea Engstrom
KCUR 89.3
ReStart is an emergency shelter near 9th and Harrison in downtown Kansas City, Missouri.

Kansas City's 90-bed emergency homeless shelter will close in early April if it cannot raise $1 million, according to its CEO.

Stephanie Boyer said that sum would not keep reStart open forever, and would not reinstate the agency's unique, comprehensive support services for residents, which would require millions of dollars more.

“As far back as I can really tell, this 90-bed program has always lacked appropriate funding,” said Boyer, who took over the 39-year-old agency in January 2019.

Between serving a population that is difficult to raise money for and a lack federal funding through the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, the emergency shelter has frequently been tight on cash, Boyer said.

"As HUD shifted their funding sources at the federal level away from emergency shelter and emergency housing and into more permanent supportive housing and a housing-first model, any dollars at the federal level went away years ago to support, kind of, the emergency housing and shelter model," she said.

The emergency shelter is one of 17 programs run by reStart. It serves single adults, is open 24 hours, 7 days a week, and is LGBTQ-friendly. Rather than being just a place to sleep, it’s a transitional program.

“It very much provides a comprehensive approach to (the residents),” Boyer said. “Our goal is to ensure that the people we serve have a path and exit from homelessness and back into stable housing.”

Shelter residents are able to take advantage of on-site opportunities such as case management programs, mental health and substance abuse services, and employment assistance. 

Now, Boyer is worried that many of their residents will wind up back on the streets, particularly those in the LGBTQ community.

“Maybe every decision wasn’t always made with a business model of like, 'How are we going to sustain this?'” Boyer said. “The answer was 'Yes, and we’ll figure it out,' which only works for a little while.” 

According to Boyer, keeping the shelter open isn’t just critical for providing a safe place for people to sleep, it also keeps down the city's cost of managing its homeless population. If reStart’s emergency shelter closes, she said, the city will bear the cost.

“We will see, likely, an increase of people on the street,” Boyer said. “We will see emergency services continue to be even more burdened than they currently are.”

Next steps

The shelter is currently in what Boyer described as a “phase-out process,” meaning that only 55 beds are occupied. As residents transition into stable housing, reStart won’t refill those beds.

“We’ll continue that process until there are dollars identified to help sustain some of those beds,” Boyer said on March 3. “We anticipate over probably the next, I would say, 45 days or so that we’ll continue that attrition process.”

A Kansas City council committee was set to consider whether to appropriate $250,000 to reStart on March 4, which Boyer said would allow them to keep some beds open. 

But Councilwoman Katheryn Shields, who chairs the city’s finance and governance committee, tabled the ordinance until March 18. She said she wants reStart to provide financial information and a plan for how the infusion would “make them solvent into the future.”

“I think before we give outside of the budget dollars to any entity, because they have financial crisis, we need to know what their plan is for moving forward,” Shields said.

In the meantime, the agency is reaching out to its community funding partners. The desire to help is there, Boyer said, but donors’ resources are also limited. When it comes to new donors, she said, “we haven’t received a lot of interest.”

Ultimately, Boyer said, “this is a community issue, and it needs a community solution. Every person has a part to play, big or small.”

Stephanie Boyer spoke with KCUR on a recent episode of Up To Date. Listen to their entire conversation here.

Chelsea Engstrom is an intern at KCUR's Up To Date. You can find her on Twitter @by__chelsea.

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