KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City, Missouri, Parks and Recreation Department is addressing the latest encampment unhoused individuals have set up at Washington Square Park. In recent weeks, people who work and live in the area have noticed the number of tents increase.
Some of the tents up the street from the Crown Center started coming down hours after a KCMO park ranger reminded those there that camping is not allowed at the park and asked the individuals to take down their tents, according to the interim KCMO Parks Director Roosevelt Lyons.
The ranger also reminded them that the park's curfew is midnight.
"And initially this was a good area but some, some bad people have moved in and there's been a lot of theft and violence," Randy Carnhan, who is houseless and is visiting from Los Angeles, said.
The park is familiar to the unhoused. It served as a meal and clothing distribution site over the years.
In summer and fall of 2020, residents filed 311 complaints concerning trash, safety and the tents.
Most recently more than a dozen tents have gone up as advocates indicate there seems to be a surge of unsheltered people.
"Each week I meet new people that are out here. Some of them are teenagers, some of them people that have lost their jobs. There's a lady here that lost her job due to Covid," Alina Heart, who's is a volunteer, said.
Becky Martin is that woman. She's been out on the streets for a year.
"You spend most of your day trying to figure out how to get water, where are you going to bathe? Where are you going to eat? How am I going to stay warm?" Martin said.
She heard of this camp through word of mouth. So did Michael Espino.
He and his dog were staying at the camp for people experiencing homelessness off Independence Avenue and Paseo until Friday, when he left and went to the one at Washington Square Park.
"Everybody sees homeless people in tents out there, they think, ‘oh, bad, bad, horrifying.’ It's not horrifying. You don't realize how many people and what they've been through in our times out here," Espino said.
Other than a park ranger, he would like to see the city send someone who can connect them to resources.
A spokesperson for KCMO Neighborhoods and Housing Services said they plan to do so, but when that will happen is unclear.
"We’ll kick you over here, and kick you over there, but what about doing the right thing?" Espino said. "When people want help and ask for it, they don't get it."
In the meantime, Espino packed up and headed to another camp in a different part of the city he had heard about.
"We want to be able to live somewhere to call our home, not worrying about when the storm comes. How many people are gonna freeze out here? How many people going to die out here?" Espino said.
As leaders consider solutions, some staying at Washington Square Park would like the city to designate a place where they could camp and be safe.