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'A kindhearted soul': Homelessness advocates remember Interstate-70 fire victim

Alina Heart homeless advocate
Posted at 9:36 PM, Jan 13, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-13 23:13:57-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas City, Missouri, police haven't identified the person who died Thursday morning in a fire underneath a bridge along Interstate-70 near 18th Street.

However, those who work with the houseless think they know who it is, and when they first heard what happened, they thought "not again."

As a volunteer, Alina Heart has grown close over the years to those experiencing homelessness.

"There’s a lot of tragedy, a lot of things happen when, you know, people have to sleep on the streets," Heart said.

She's heartbroken over the loss of yet another life.

Kansas City, Missouri, firefighters responded to the fire at around 5:59 a.m. under the I-70 bridge, near the Benton curve.

"It’s going to be on Indiana under I-70, you’ve got a homeless camp burning," a dispatcher said on radio traffic captured on Broadcastify.com

A firefighter responded "Copy, I bet they’re cold."

Once firefighters extinguished the flames before sunrise, they found remains of a person.

"The fires are started to stay warm, because it gets cold at night, sometimes to cook something, but normally for warmth," Heart said.

The winter months for those sleeping in the elements can be deadly.

Around this time last year, Heart was mourning the death of another friend, Scott Eicke who many knew as "Sixx." He froze to death near east 24th Street and Woodland Avenue.

Since his passing, city leaders have come up with a number of initiatives to connect the houseless with resources.

"A lot of nonprofits, the city, a lot of people tried really hard, I really feel that this is on the community because they all say, ‘Oh, I want to help the homeless, I want to help them with housing.' But they don't want them in their neighborhood," Heart said.

According to a KCMO spokesperson, it wasn't cold enough overnight to activate their new extreme weather plan

"For the plan to be implemented, the daytime high must be below 32 degrees or the overnight low must be less than 20 degrees," Maggie Green, a KCMO spokeswoman said. "The overnight low was in the 30s."

In a statement KCMO added:

The City is saddened to hear about the tragic loss of life in the underpass fire. Deepest sympathies are extended to family and friends of the deceased. 
Addressing housing insecurity and providing resources to the houseless community remains a top priority for the City. The City’s Housing and Community Services Department has programs kcmo.gov to help those who are experiencing homelessness; this list of partner agencies [chrome-extension] can also provide immediate assistance.  
The City's much more proactive and supportive encampment policy under development is nearing completion, currently stakeholders and councilmembers are providing feedback prior to finalization. The City’s goal is to provide services to the unhoused community before, during, and after their move to safer and healthier environments, which includes contact by outreach teams, free transportation to shelter or housing, and free storage and transportation of personal belongings. This policy is a collaborative effort led by the Mayor’s Houseless Task Force, chaired by Fifth District Councilwoman Ryana Parks-Shaw, with the Coalition to End Homelessness and other partner service providers. 
The City's new Extreme Weather Plan also better coordinates existing services and support systems and ensures everyone in Kansas City has a warm, safe, dry place to sleep at night particularly during cold weather.
For any residents who may be moved to offer assistance, there are ways to help [kcmo.gov] financially and/or donate personal supplies for houseless residents.  
KCMO

In the meantime, Heart wants the community to remember her friend "as a very a kindhearted soul that really gave back."

Heart and others plan to honor the fire victim at a later date.