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Activists, city discuss next steps as Bartle Hall warming center closes

warming center
Posted at 4:53 PM, Mar 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-17 18:30:14-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Organizers said although the Scott Eicke Warming Center at Bartle Hall is closing, this isn't the end. They hope to build on the momentum they've created.

"This is like a small city, a small town," said Anton Washington, one of the original organizers.

Washington reflected on what they accomplished there when, on some nights, the facility provided 500 people a warm space to sleep.

"It works. We have results, we have data, we have a lot of things," Washington said. "We have built friendships, we have built networking and connections with volunteers that see a need in our community."

The warming center opened in January to prevent more people from dying out in the cold. It was meant to be a temporary solution, so as the initiative ends and the guests gather their things and move on, what's next?

"Now we've been working on long-term solutions," said Chris Hernandez, a spokesperson for Kansas City, Missouri. "We have a couple of programs in the works right now, can't discuss those quite yet."

Hernandez said social workers have been at the center for the last week, talking to guests about their needs moving forward. Guests are connected to other shelters and agencies.

Since the warming center opened, 100 guests have gotten housing.

Housing is a goal for Maurice Jones, who has slept outside in parking garages. He said he's been spending the night at the warming center since January, after his uncle's truck caught on fire.

"Stay out the cold, it helped a lot," Jones said. "They helped a lot of people with apartments but I'm still out here."

Hernandez said the warming center provided a space for different agencies to collaborate.

"When we gathered everyone in one place and started adding the social service aspects, it enabled us to talk to people and connect them more directly," Hernandez said.

Washington wants to work with the city on another facility like Bartle Hall. However, Hernandez said said the city's program probably won't include that because they believe the existing shelters already have capacity to accommodate the warming center guests.

Washington is part of KCMO Mayor Quinton Lucas's homeless task force and said he'll make sure the city works with those closest to the problem.

"You have a team of individuals who are willing to bring together tangible resources and wraparound services," Washington said. "We can't just lose individuals 'cause it's getting warm."

The city is expecting to receive $195 million from the federal American Rescue Plan for COVID-19 relief. The city will get half this spring and the other half next spring.

"A lot of that money we are planning on directing to rent relief," Hernandez said "And that's very important because that's what's going to prevent homelessness and keep people in their apartments."

Anyone who needs help with rent or utilities can check out the city's website for a list of agencies.