Fire damages Independence shelter for homeless, pregnant teens

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. - Several teenage girls and their children will be spending the night away from their homeless shelter after a fire caused significant damage Monday evening.

Independence and Kansas City, Mo., firefighters were called out to the Mother's Refuge shelter near 40th and Hardy just before 7 p.m. When they arrived, crews encountered smoke and fire coming from the building.

One girl, her baby, a staff member and case worker Julie Johnson were inside the shelter at the time of the fire, which started in a back bedroom and spread to the attic before crews were able to extinguish the flames.

" I ran around to the side of the house, and I could hear it crackling. I could see fire coming out of the window," Johnson said. "I wanted to go back, and by the time I turned around the smoke was completely black. I knew it was way too dangerous. We left, and as we waited I could see the whole house was completely enflamed."

The shelter provides lodgings for up to eight teenage girls and four children. On Monday, it was home to four girls and two kids, but most were at a class at the time of the fire, according to shelter executive director Robert Zornes.

Zornes says many of the young mothers at the shelter turned to Mother's Refuge because they had nowhere else to go, and Monday night they were again searching for a place to stay.

" The girls we serve have come from some very bad backgrounds and had no home," Zornes said. "Tonight they no longer have another home."


Despite losing the home, which has served more than 1200 mothers and babies during the last 25 years, Zornes says he's grateful no one was hurt.


"Bricks and mortar can be replaced, and we'll have to get volunteers and people to come and replace our home and I know that we can do that," Zornes said. "But little lives like this one cannot be replaced. "

Officials said mothers and babies will stay with staff members on a temporary basis but a permanent solution had not been reached.

Zornes says the organization relies on donations and support for the community.  Those interested in assisting are asked to contact the shelter at 816-353-8070.

Investigators have yet to determine a cause for the blaze, which caused significant smoke and water damage throughout the home.

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