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‘Just care a little bit’: Waiting continues after second round of KCMO’s low-barrier housing proposals close

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Posted at 6:33 AM, Jun 03, 2024

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas City, Missouri’s second round of proposals for low-barrier housing shelter proposals closed Thursday, kickstarting a waiting period for both organizations and unhoused people.

The second round came about at the April 24 city council meeting in an 8-2 vote to re-open the request for proposals (RFPs) for a low-barrier shelter instead of voting to award Hope Faith’s homeless assistance campus $7.1 million.

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KSHB 41 was at the meeting, where Hope Faith leadership expressed frustration at not being awarded the funds.

The initial decision to award Hope Faith the money was met with opposition, mostly in favor of having multiple homeless shelters spread out across the city instead of just one in a location that already serves the community.

Now that the 30-day period has passed to submit the second round of proposals, the executive director of Hope Faith, Doug Langner, said he’s optimistic but not competitive.

“As long as they’re not going to turn anyone away, as long as they don’t make anyone pay to stay or pray to stay, we’re going to be behind whoever that is,” Langner said. “We just hope that if it’s not us, that it is able to be sustainable, it is a place that people that are experiencing houselessness trust, and if that’s the case, we’ll get behind them.”

Langner said Hope Faith was never against having multiple low-barrier shelters, but he noted there’s a practicality to starting with one in an established location.

“This isn’t easy to do, and so you have to have a way to make that sustainable of multiple sites, so the idea of starting here is what our thought is,” Langner said. “To do something dignified that’s going to be a safe place to be, a dignified space to be, if they split it up too much, we won’t be able to do it.”

Not doing anything isn’t an option, especially considering the extent of Kansas City’s chronic homelessness issue, per Langner.

HUD data from 2022 reported Kansas City and surrounding cities and counties — like Independence, Lee’s Summit and Wyandotte County — had 343 individuals experiencing chronic homelessness and 89.6% unsheltered, which ranked higher than other major cities like Raleigh, North Carolina, and Los Angeles.

Kansas City also has no low-barrier homeless shelters, or shelters where people can "come as they are" without sobriety, credit or criminality requirements.

Langner said Hope Faith's proposal pitched a facility with 100 beds with no set duration for people to stay, something he said currently doesn't exist in the city. He also said the need per night is almost double that amount.

“They don’t have that easy-to-get shelter type of thing. It's always hard,” said Tonya Stone, an unhoused individual staying at Washington Square Park.

Stone moved to Kansas City five years ago. For three of those years, she was homeless. She said she became homeless again three months ago.

“It’s not like I don’t want to work,” Stone said. “It’s not like I want to be homeless. I don’t want to be in the position I’m in, but I can’t help myself right now, and I hate being that way.”

Stone has acute chronic heart failure, a heart condition she was diagnosed with in December 2023 after having a stroke.

“I can’t work, I can’t get my disability started, I can’t do none of that,” Stone said. “What am I supposed to do? That’s why I’m homeless.”

Stone received a housing voucher from her case worker, but she said not even her voucher has helped make it easier to find available housing. So, she’s back on the streets for the time being — a very lonely place to be.

“I’m alone even if I have a place,” Stone said. “I have no family, no friends, no nothing. I’m like out here. And when you’ve got that, you just feel like nothing.”

To pass the time, Stone likes to color.

“It keeps my mind straight, where I’m not going crazy in my head,” Stone said.

And when one is constantly dehumanized, Stone said it’s easy to feel that way.

“Because you’re homeless out here, they look at you differently, and they react to you differently,” Stone said. “You say hello and they just keep on walking like you ain’t say nothing to ‘em.”

When she does interact with people, it’s not always the safest encounter.

“It’s not safe out here for anyone, to be honest with you, but especially a single woman,” Stone said. “I almost died, could have died. Anyone out here could have died.”

Stone's experience is why Langner said there needs to be a sense of urgency, regardless of which agency is awarded money for a new proposal.

“Most people don’t want to be on the streets, and it’s dangerous to be on the streets,” he said. “Houselessness is a year-round problem — not a winter problem, not a summer problem, it’s a 365-day-a-year problem.”

Now that the deadline for the second round of proposals has been submitted, the city council will review those applications, a process that could take another 30 days, Langner said he was told.

A city spokesperson sent this statement:

“Kansas City is home to the highest number of unsheltered homeless individuals per capita in the nation. It is vital for the City of Kansas City to implement a low-barrier shelter in our community which will provide vital resources to those in need. [Thursday] the request for proposal process closes for a second time in our search to serve the homeless population with a low-barrier shelter. We are committed to moving forward with the public procurement process to achieve this essential resource for our community and move toward functional zero.”

Langer explained the city has not released any names of other applicants, and that information cannot be public until contracts are signed.

In the meantime, Stone said a low-barrier shelter with job and housing resources to help unhoused people beyond meals would be ideal for her and her peers. Langer agrees.

“It’s just that final inch, that final mile, and so that’s what we’re talking about ... how do we get people safe until they can get into that house?” Langner said.

As Stone continues to color, she’d like to see a shade of humanity applied to others.

“That helping hand, that friendship, that caring is what we need,” Stone said. “I don’t need something big and huge and everybody sees it. I need the little stuff. Just care just a little bit.”