As winter approaches, city leaders in KC set to discuss ways to keep unhoused safe

·4 min read

City leaders are discussing potential ways to shelter Kansas City’s unhoused population as winter approaches and temperatures drop.

In a news release Wednesday, the city outlined possible plans for both temporary shelters and permanent housing. These plans will be presented to city council members on Thursday afternoon.

“Thanks to a collaborative effort by city staff, housing staff and our community assistance partners, we have a plan to keep those needing shelter this winter safe, warm and out of the elements,” said Jennifer Tidwell, interim director of housing and community development.

The strategy in discussions is three-fold, according to a news release from the city:

  1. Enhanced collaboration with existing shelters to pinpoint available beds and ensure that service providers fully utilize resources, including creation of a new online dashboard that updates bed availability daily, with data sharing across all service providers.

  2. Preparing overflow space such as community centers as needed when extreme weather or other emergencies increase the demand for services.

  3. Creative new permanent housing options, including three new permanent housing projects to be presented to the City Council this week.

Last winter, after the death of Scott “Sixx” Eicke, 41, who froze to death on New Year’s Day, the city opened the Bartle Hall Warming Center, an emergency overnight shelter in operation from late January through mid-March. On average, it gave temporary shelter to 307 people a night.

In early 2021, the city also established the Cold Weather Family Housing Program, which lasted from January to May. It gave dozens of families who lost their jobs and then their homes in the pandemic an opportunity for rapid re-housing at a secure site.

Earlier this year, the city also established an emergency hotel stay program after the Kansas City Homeless Union spent several weeks camped on the front lawn of City Hall. The program served nearly 400 people who were living outside of shelters. The emergency program ended after 90 days, despite requests for an extension from members of the houseless community.

In her shoes: The Star spends 24 hours with one woman living homeless in Kansas City

The city is also working toward establishing more permanent housing options. City Manager Brian Platt said the city is looking to build 10,000 new affordable housing units in the next five years.

“Permanent, supportive housing will be crucial to ending homelessness for so many of our residents,” Platt said in a news release.

The permanent housing proposals to be presented at city hall Thursday afternoon each include onsite support services. They are:

  • Converting two vacant hotels into about 100 single room apartments while also connecting residents with social services.

  • Installing about 30 pallet-style “Tiny Homes” through a collaboration with Hope Faith’s homeless assistance campus.

  • Funding an expansion of Amethyst Place in order to provide about 30 permanent affordable housing units for single mothers and their children

Councilwoman Ryana Parks-Shaw, who chairs the Houseless Task Force, said while homelessness can’t be addressed in just a year, “this is a positive step in the right direction to provide compassionate, sustainable and intentional solutions to end houselessness in Kansas City.”

Previous city efforts

In the past year, Kansas City has invested $8.5 million in city funds and in COVID-19 relief funding into addressing homelessness and housing insecurity in light of the pandemic, which has left many more people facing financial uncertainty. Here is the full list of initiatives by the city in the past year.

  • Creation of the Houseless Task Force: The task force, the first of its kind in Kansas City, was established by the City Council in January with the hopes of developing long-term policies and solutions related to homelessness.

  • Strategic plan and community needs assessment: The City Council in late August voted to direct City Manager Brian Platt to finish an assessment of the ways taxpayer dollars are currently being spent on service providers. The study is meant to inform a strategic plan — due about six months later — for addressing needs of those experiencing homelessness, including prevention and intervention.

  • Tiny home village: In the plan’s first phase, the city hopes to provide at least 140 beds across 65 “pallet homes.” The transitional housing village would include on-site social services, health care and caseworkers available at any time of the day.

  • The Land Bank of KCMO: The land bank is selling 111 vacant and abandoned homes for $1. These buildings are being sold to organizations that will then renovate them and rent living spaces out to people either in the lowest income brackets or who are experiencing houselessness.

  • More housing: The city is working with private developers to create more affordable units in new developments. The city also created and allocated $12.5 million to an affordable housing trust fund and a standalone housing department to focus on tenants, the unhoused and affordable housing. Maggie Green, media relations manager for the city, said the city is also hoping to repurpose unused facilities, such as hotels, into housing for those who are unsheltered.

  • Vision for Housing Plan: The city asked for community feedback on the plan to create 10,000 new affordable housing units by 2027.

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