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Future uncertain for many as KCMO homeless hotel initiative ends July 15

Pressure on city for permanent solutions
Feet of baby living in hotel
Posted at 4:55 PM, Jul 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-12 18:15:11-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo.  — The Kansas City, Missouri, homeless hotel initiative ends on Thursday, July 15.

Almost 400 people across 12 hotels will have to transition to living somewhere else.

"This has been my only ray of hope because there are no other programs to help me out with my criteria," said Patrick Wells, who lives in a Northland hotel as part of the initiative.

Wells said his van with all his possessions was stolen recently, and now hopes he can temporarily live with some friends in Trenton, Missouri.

People's entire lives are inside the hotel rooms. Guests have been living there for 90 days but sometimes 90 days is not long enough.

Two women told 41 Action News they are doing their best to pack up their belongings. They've lived in their rooms for about three months.

One woman said because she has a stable place to live at the hotel, she's able to make her regular methadone appointments. Before, she was living on the streets, addicted to heroin.

Another guest, who did not want to share his name, now works at the hotel and keeps a clean, tidy room.

The pressure is on city council to make some permanent changes.

Guests, the city, and advocates say some good has come out of the initiative. The city contracted with Lotus Care House for $3 million to provide services.

The city and Lotus Care House provided the following statistics since May 4, when Lotus came on board:

  • More than 30 hotel guests applied for benefits such as Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security for the first time. Caseworkers helped about 100 people beef up existing benefits.
  • The majority of hotel guests, about 344 people, filled out housing assessments or were connected to housing services providers
  • More than 220 people received medical care
  • 50 people now have jobs
  • More than 20 people were connected to substance abuse and/or mental health treatment programs
  • One baby was safely born because of the hotel connection
  • About 25 people left the hotels for housing programs

41 Action News talked to Craig Watson, who was pushing around a stroller with his 7-month-old granddaughter in tow. His daughter, Jessica, who is 25, works two jobs within walking distance of the hotel. Watson helps out by taking care of Jessica's baby.

"Her jobs are right here, and this is right in the area," Watson said. "It really helps her out a lot."

On Thursday, Jessica doesn't know what she'll do. She needs to stay in the area to keep her jobs.

Jessica and her baby can't stay with Watson.

"I don't like seeing them in this situation, I don't," Watson said. "I want them in a place. I just wish that God would help them, man."

The Independence Housing Authority opened up section 8 voucher opportunities at the end of June, and more than 200 hotel guests applied, but it doesn't mean they'll be housed by Thursday.

"We're always shuffling them every three, four months. And that three, four months makes it harder for them to actually stay stabilized," said Anton Washington, an advocate for the homeless.

Washington has worked with the city since before he started the Bartle Hall shelter project. He said if the city would just extend the initiative for half the hotels for a couple more months, they can do more.

Lotus Care House has around six caseworkers spread thin around the 12 hotels.

Washington said he wants people on the outside to think like a human being for 10 minutes and consider what they would want if they were in the hotel guests' shoes.

"For those city council members who are reluctant on trying to pass something — pass it. You never know what blessings that may come of it that may help our unhoused friends," Washington said.

The city's housing committee may vote on "Verge," a tiny house pallet project, on Wednesday. The first phase would provide 200 beds for emergency transitional housing for the unhoused community.

The city also unveiled a plan to create 5,000 affordable housing units within five years.

But come Thursday?

"All I need is time," Wells said.