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In-depth: For those who are homeless or on the brink in KC, slow roll-out of emergency aid matters

Homeless woman
Posted at 5:19 PM, Aug 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-30 20:39:21-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kim Taylor hasn't felt at home or safe for two years.

"It's been living hell and I just want to go home. I'm sick of it," Taylor said.

Taylor is experiencing homelessness and said every camp she's stayed in has been swept.

For now, she's at a camp near 10th & Harrison with her two adult sons. They're on a waiting list for housing vouchers.

"My daughter committed suicide. That's what started this whole thing. And we've been trying to stick together, you know, because we don't really want to lose anybody else," Taylor said. "They got to have their birth certificate and shit to go to housing, so I don't know what's going to happen. It sounds like it's probably going to be a month or so and I'm not going to make it anyway, so who cares."

Many people share Taylor's desperation. As housing continues to be uncertain for many families, lack of resources for those experiencing homelessness, delayed dissemination of aid and a difficult application process for services can complicate an already stressful situation.

Taylor is one of those who didn't make it into a program after Kansas City's homeless hotel initiative ended in July.

Outreach groups are trying to keep track of everyone but say several camp sweeps have made that difficult.

"That right there makes it harder for all of us to find them, cause if they get swept, guess what, they miss out on their opportunity to get a voucher," Anton Washington, who is an activist working with those who experience homelessness, said.

Washington's group has been working with one remaining hotel to house about a dozen people while they work on next steps.

The city announced plans for expanding housing options for those experiencing homelessness, but that will roll out in the next several years.

The current crisis is happening alongside the end of the national eviction moratorium, a ban on evictions created in an effort to protect those facing hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic, when even more families could risk losing their homes.

"Of course with the variant, we suspect there will be another batch of people that may lose income or lose jobs," Ryan Vincent, executive director at Kansas Housing Resources Corporation (KHRC), said.

KHRC is an organization dedicated to helping Kansans access safe and affordable housing. It's set to receive $300 million in federal emergency housing assistance for a program called Kansas Emergency Rental Assistance (KERA). Half of that money is already available.

They give the money mostly to landlords whose tenants are struggling to pay the bills. If the landlord is not responsive or isn't willing to cooperate, KHRC can give the funding directly to the tenant.

"So the goal is to be ready to get dollars out the door, but just remind folks that regardless of what is happening with the eviction moratorium, we've still got these dollars through 2025," Vincent said.

Vincent said they plan to distribute a couple million dollars every week for a four-year period.

Before KERA, the Kansas Eviction Protection Program (KEPP) distributed $17 million in assistance in 2020.

The Missouri Housing Development Commission received $325 million in federal funding. So far, MHDC has awarded $58 million between its State Assistance for Housing Relief (SAFHR) and Emergency Rental Arrears (ERAP) programs.

Nationally, only $5 billion of a $46 billion federal emergency fund has been divvied out to state agencies, which has drawn criticism.

To date, KHRC has used about one fifth of their available funds, helping 6,100 households.

"If somebody gave you all your grocery money now through 2025 and then to say, well why haven't you spent all your grocery money? We know that there's going to be needs for groceries between now and 2025, just like we know there's going to be need for rental assistance until then," Vincent said.

Earlier in August, U.S. Congressman Emanuel Cleaver II criticized the Kansas City, Missouri, City Council for allocating just 35%, or $7.5 million, in total housing assistance.

"The reason we're having urgency is because if you don't spend it, you're going to lose it," Cleaver said.

If states and cities don't have 65% of their funding disseminated by the end of September, the Treasury could take the money back.

However, housing leaders in Kansas City said they will meet the mark.

Vincent said to date, KHRC has funded about 48% of all its received applications and is confident they'll meet the September deadline.

"To landlords: don't evict. Instead, apply for KERA," Vincent said.

Vincent and other housing officials said stringent documentation requirements were slowing down the process. People were missing documents like tax records, sufficient pay stubs and proof of income reduction. Many just couldn't upload their documents.

KHRC has about 2,500 applications on hold because they are not complete.

When they get a complete application, Vincent said KHRC can get the money out within a few weeks.

Recently, the Treasury announced several ways to speed up the process, including allowing tenants to self-declare their hardships if they don't have access to all the documentation.

Time is of the essence for many.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1.2 million households fear they will likely be evicted from their home within the next two months.

Taylor may not have lost the roof over her head due to COVID-19, but she's caught in a complex housing crisis that the pandemic only exacerbated.

"I don't understand it, why I'm out here, but I don't think I belong out here. ​And there's not a damn thing I can do about it," Taylor said. "I would like to ask for somebody's help."