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KCMO council committee stalls 3 measures addressing homelessness despite outcry

Advocates say this is life and death
Westport homelessness camp
Posted at 6:22 PM, Jul 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-21 19:26:51-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Three measures that would implement crucial services for the homeless stalled in the city council's Finance, Governance and Public Safety committee.

Some council members hoped to move forward with at least one of the three measures.

Committee Chair Katheryn Shields decided to hold all three until Aug. 4, saying they need more information and shut down further discussion.

"I've already made it very clear, I'm holding it, so I'm not taking any more testimony on why not to hold it," Shields said, interrupting a special advisor to Mayor Quinton Lucas's office, who hoped to testify in favor of the ordinances.

One of the measures is the Verge pallet house project, which the council has held and re-referred six times and still hasn't picked out a location for the 200 temporary beds.

Two options could be a city block at 12th and Charlotte, which some folks have strongly opposed, and Margaret Kemp Park at 10th and Harrison.

Shields said she doubted that Kemp Park would have the capacity, and suggested an area in the Northland off North Oak Trafficway by the KCMO water treatment plant.

City Manager Brian Platt said delaying the contract approval delays their ability to vet a viable location.

Another measure would use $2.7 million to increase beds and services at existing shelters.

Melissa Robinson, third district councilmember, said they need to make sure accountability and inclusion is included with this measure, because some of the shelters don't accept people who are addicts, family units, or people in the LGBTQ community.

The third, Resolution 210604, would enable the city manager to put out a request for proposals for an assessment of vacant properties that would be converted into housing for low-income and people experiencing homelessness with wraparound services.

Councilmember Parks-Shaw, who is also on the city's special housing committee, said they are already considering a few vacant properties to convert such as a former long-term care facility and two hotels.

"Time is of the essence," Parks-Shaw said. "We're getting ready to go through a heat wave. We need as much time as possible to look at sustainable housing solutions. Putting this off for two weeks is a waste of time."

The city's hotel initiative for the homeless ended July 15, providing many with resources but sent many back onto the streets.

Organizations like City Union Mission and Shelter KC are preparing for an influx after the initiative ending.

Advocates for the homeless warn the situation will get worse, calling the committee's actions irresponsible & shameful.

"I feel like it's just going to be more conversation that leads to dead ends and we fear that we might lose someone in the meantime to the awful July heat," Jennifer Hall said.

Hall is one of the volunteers who helps the homeless. She and many others visit the camps and hear folks' stories.

"We see these children, the elderly, the fragile — the most fragile of an already fragile community of the houseless," Hall said. "And they're doing everything in their power to better their situations and we're doing everything in our power to help better their situations, but we're just running into so many road blocks over and over again and I feel like we're now in a city that doesn't support these people."

Jennifer McCartney is the co-founder of KC Heroes, a volunteer organization, and Merging KC, a group working to push forward the pallet home project. She said the volunteers have been doing much of the city's work, which they have a passion for, but people need help now.

"Now is the time to stop talking because we've been talking. We know what the problem is, we have solutions," McCartney said. "We have an army of people ready to be resources, ready to jump in, the pallet house city — we have so many people. We talked to nonprofits, wraparound services. But it's an emergency that needs to happen now."

Several more people spoke during the public comment portion, urging the council to act now.

Robinson told KSHB 41 News she's disappointed, too.

"In my mind, we are kicking the can down the road in a very sensitive situation in which peoples lives and well-being is at stake. So I think we have moral responsibility to take action and act quickly," Robinson said.

Robinson said Merging KC can also apply to use some of the $2.7 million for the pallet homes. In fact, the city manager's office already earmarked $200,000 of that money for a down payment on the homes.

The city will receive $197 million total from the American Rescue Plan, with $8 million for homeless services. The city expects to be able to use that money within the next six months.

"But what are we really doing to rescue those who need it most?" Robinson said. "And that's what I hope this body will take action to do."

City council is on vacation next week. Robinson said realistically, this discussion could roll into the second week of August.

"You know what, the council people, there's only very few that are trying to deflect all of this and they need to stop it," McCartney said. "They need to own it, they need to own their position and they need to stand strong. And when they do that, we're going to support them."