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Artists Helping the Homeless nonprofit bridges gaps in services across Kansas City metro

Posted: 5:48 PM, Jul 02, 2024
Updated: 2024-07-03 09:47:27-04
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kahana House opened in February in south Kansas City, Missouri. Owned and operated by the nonprofit Artists Helping the Homeless, the house hosts approximately 16 people at any given time while working to bridge gaps in homeless services.

Artist Kar Woo first became acquainted with Kansas City's homeless community after moving his art gallery from Leawood to the Plaza in 2008.

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He began by selling his work to feed the homeless and letting them in his gallery to use the restroom.

According to Woo, he became a voice for Kansas City's unhoused community in citywide talks about an increase in homelessness.

He's since left behind art to dedicate his life to helping the homeless.

“I work seven days a week, 12-15 hours a day every day for the past 15 years, 17 years, nonstop," he said.

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Kar Woo

His nonprofit has grown over the years. It now has six transitional and supportive housing programs across the metro — going as far as Lawrence.

The houses serve an average of 200 people a year.

“Our program provides what I call a true wraparound service," Woo said. "We provide them transportation for them to go to work, go to school, go to all the doctor appointments, go to see their PO — whatever, we’ll take them there.”

The Kahana House — which is a clean, sober environment with 24/7 peer support — is equipped with a gym, computer lab and outdoor space.

“We allow them the grace to stay here as long as they need it," Woo said. "If they need to go from detox to inpatient and the wait is a month, OK, stay one month.”

Transportation is a crucial service the nonprofit offers that others don't.

Donovan Edmunds is an outreach specialist with Artists Helping the Homeless. He spends his days driving residents to and from work and appointments.

He is also a former resident who was homeless for nearly a decade.

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Donovan Edmunds

“When I got out of jail, I saw Mr. Woo in my [parole officer's] office," Edmunds said.

After meeting Woo, graduating from housing and becoming an employee of Artists Helping the Homeless, Edmunds can attest to how life-changing the program is.

“The only thing that [Woo] requires is that you have the willingness to want to change your life," he said.

Between 85% to 90% of residents move on to independent living, transitional housing or the next step in recovery, according to Artists Helping the Homeless.

Many go on to graduate from college and get jobs, too.

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Jakeb Nott

Jakeb Nott has a similar story to Edmunds.

“I was in Douglas County, in jail, and made a phone call," Nott said. "I had three days to get out and nowhere to go, and luckily Woo came in the day before I was released and was like, ‘Well, you can come on over to the house.’”

Nott now is employed by Artists Helping the Homeless; he lives in the Kahana House and manages it.

He can attest to how supportive the program is.

“From transportation to helping me find job placement, to helping me get my birth certificate, my social, all of these things, and a lot of peer support," he said.

Woo said services provided by Artists Helping the Homeless are made possible in part due to partnerships and donations made by North Kansas City Hospital, QuikTrip and other area resources.