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KC outreach groups point out glaring problems after 2 found dead in cold

KC Homeless United
Posted at 6:58 PM, Jan 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-04 19:58:07-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Two people in Kansas City have died outside in the cold in two days.

"Unfortunately, it's not surprising," Amanda Eisenmann with Kansas City Homeless United said. "I've been doing street outreach for 10 years and I've lost a lot of friends."

Groups that work to do outreach with people experiencing homelessness say something has to change in Kansas City.

"Don't nobody want to face this reality that's just right here in their face. People (will) continue to die," said Qadhafi, a man who formerly lived in his car. He now does outreach work with Eisenmann and other groups.

Scott Eicke was found dead in the snow on New Year's Day at East 24th Street and Woodland Avenue. He was known as "Sixx."

An outreach volunteer found another man dead in a vacant building near East 54th Street and Prospect Avenue on Jan. 3.

"This happens every winter. It happens every summer, it's not just the cold," Eisenmann said. "It's starvation, it's infection, it's lack of medical treatment. It goes unrecorded and it's in the shadows."

Outreach groups believe city workers swept Eicke's camp before he died; however, the city says it didn't do any sweeps on Jan. 1.

But sweeps happen every week, and these groups want to put an end to the practice.

Eisenmann keeps track of city camp sweeps.

"When you're sitting on the sidewalk and it's 10 degrees, that blanket is your life or death," Eisenmann said.

Mark Gibbons, a volunteer, said he hears many stories like this.

"We know of people who have had their tents and sleeping bags and clothes thrown away by city workers and told they should go to (a) warming center when the warming center was filled at 3 (o'clock) in the afternoon," Gibbons said. "There's no place for them to go."

Mayor Quinton Lucas also said he wants to look at different ways to direct people to services without sweeping their camp.

"I don't think there should be sweeps in cold weather months. I arguably really don't think we should be doing sweeps anyway," Lucas said. "We need to look at a more humane process."

Lucas said ending sweeps may have to come in the form of a new ordinance and working with the City Council.

Councilman Brandon Ellington is working on a proposal to set up enclaves for those experiencing homelessness at three to four parks around KCMO.

Ellington is looking for a co-sponsor for the proposal and plans to introduce it to council next week.

Eisenmann's solution points toward the number of vacant buildings in the city.

"If we've got five vacant houses for every one houseless person, what can we do to be a part of the solution and not a part of the problem?" Eisenmann said.

Two other groups, KC Heroes and Merging KC, are trying to set up structured campsites around the city to keep people alive, similar to what other cities — like Lawrence, Kansas — have done.

"They'll have a shower trailer, a washer and dryer trailer. A bathroom trailer. Right there, right by where their tent is," Jennifer McCartney, founder of KC Heroes, said.

McCartney said they have backers for the project but need the city's help.

"That's one of the ideas. But really us coming together, that's the main thing," McCartney said "I mean, we're all out here helping doing the same thing, but city officials need to step in with these nonprofits, these grassroots people and be an active part of what we're doing."

Lucas said he supports the idea of a structured campsite. The Downtown Council of Kansas City discussed a similar concept, but Lucas said it has not gone anywhere yet.

Kansas City received slightly more than $7 million in federal CARES Act funding to help those experiencing homelessness. The money was allocated to the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Prior to COVID-19, the city received near $1.5 million.

"The money has been or is being spent. I think the question becomes, how can you have that much money spent and we see the same problem?" Lucas said.

McCartney said her group would love to have access to that funding for their project.

Eisenmann believes the next steps are clear.

"Immediate community engagement to get the resources we need, but also to use the resources that are readily available to house people immediately," Eisenmann said. "It could happen today. It could have happened yesterday. It could have happened before Scott passed, but it's all preventable."

Lucas said he plans to set up a meeting in the coming days with these outreach groups to talk about solutions.