KANSAS CITY, Mo. — KSHB 41 News was with Creative Innovation Street Outreach near 10th and Harrison discussing their efforts to help the homeless during these frigid temperatures when one woman lost all of her possessions within minutes, just trying to stay warm.
The sounds of the fire overpowered her cries as she watched her tent engulf in flames, hugging and sobbing into the shoulders of friends in her camp.
Anton Washington, CEO and founder of Creative Innovative Street Outreach, says the instant fire is a harsh reality of the cold for the homeless community in Kansas City.
“They’re trying to stay warm inside their tent in ways that they are using some form of heat, whether it’s burning wood or whether it’s some kind of propane," Washington said. "So her tent burning down is a formalization of what needs to happen in our city, to open up centers to allow people to stay warm in the night hours."
Washington says this reality is hard for many to imagine.
“This is their livelihood, and being out here in these elements, this is basically their life until they are housed,” Washington said.
However, Washington and his street outreach team are always prepared for situations like this with supplies ready to go.
“We certainly made the offer to take her to shelter, and she expressed that she doesn’t feel safe and that’s she’s had bad experiences in the past, which is a pretty common thing that we hear about folks who are out here suffering with PTSD, so we did make her her own tent. We try to equip people who are living outdoors with fire safety tools, fire blankets, fire retardants sprays, fire extinguishers," said Nellie McCool, outreach navigator and director of engagement and recruitment with Creative Innovative Street Outreach.
Washington and McCool tell KSHB 41 their group simply relies on donations from the community to help those in need, but they believe there is more work that needs to be done to help the homeless in Kansas City.
“I think the solutions are fairly simple, but our priorities aren’t in the right place,” McCool said. "It’s much easier to maintain, make it safe, do things like install fire extinguishers, do things like waste removal services, have a formal address where people can receive mail.”
Despite the challenges that come with their work, they do what they can to help folks in need survive the elements and try to rebuild their lives.
“They’ve had a difficult life, and they have not been given the same tools and same network of support, truly, and the fact that they are able to survive this is really beautiful and fascinating,” McCool said.
For more information on how to donate and support those in need, head to the Creative Innovation Street Outreach website and wishlist.