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Kansas City-area volunteers, nonprofits help houseless community stay cool in record heat

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Posted at 5:43 PM, Jul 22, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-22 18:43:14-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — During scorching hot temperatures like this week in the Kansas City metro, volunteer-based and non-profit organizations are doing everything they can to take care of the houseless community.

Multiple agencies work together year-round to coordinate large drives weekly. But even on days without one, volunteers can be found on curbsides of public parks passing out water, snacks, medicine and personal hygiene products.

“In the wintertime, we saw people dying,” said Rachelle Burnett, a volunteer with Free Hot Soup. “In the summer, we still have people dying, and that’s not okay. There’s a lot of people on the ground doing things.”

Burnett says this is important work every day, but weeks like this are grim reminders of just how necessary it is. She says what they do helps protect their friends in the houseless community, like the one they lost earlier this week.

“When we heard that it was from heat exhaustion, that she was found in her tent unresponsive, it was hard to take,” Burnett said. “I hope that this is an eyeopener for people in our city to step up. I’ve kind of made a plea out. Throw a cooler of water in your car — it’s real easy. If you see someone, just hand it out. You don’t have to get out of your car. You don’t really have to say anything.”

The health department has not confirmed any heat-related deaths so far this year, but they are investigating the deaths of six people as possibly being caused by high temperatures.

In the meantime, volunteers with KC Heroes, Camp Services, and Care Beyond the Boulevard are all taking turns this week meeting the needs where they are hoping to prevent another tragedy.

Non-profits like Hope Faith are also ramping up their services.

“We have the ability to take our bus out,” Langner said. “So early in the morning, our team is out on the streets, welcoming people to get on the bus, get back to Hope Faith, and the biggest thing is what — get out of the sun, get a cold drink, we offer showers, clothing for the people that are out there.”

Hope Faith has seen 195 people come in on Friday alone and at peak levels, about 250 guests earlier this week. The staff partners with area agencies to help their guests find overnight shelters and long-term housing as well.

As the city continues to find long-term solutions, volunteers say they are doing everything they can to keep up with demand.

“The city has the funds and means to do it, and we have the relationships,” said Lindsey Anne, another Free Hot Soup volunteer. “So if you put those together, we could have a really beautiful thing, but there’s so many barriers.”