KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The city of Kansas City, Missouri, and its partners hope a new emergency shelter initiative opens more doors to address ongoing issues surrounding homelessness.
"This is a new project for Hope Faith, so we're really tapping into our resources, our community partners, as well as our partnership with the city to make this a successful endeavor," said Alfredo Palacol, human services director at Hope Faith Homeless Assistance Campus, formerly known as Hope Faith Ministries.
The city is contracting with Hope Faith on a $727,000 deal to use 28 hotel rooms for temporary housing for families.
Two more rooms are used for medical services and a staff office.
The hotel is at an undisclosed location for privacy reasons.
The initiative runs through the end of April.
"This is very new in terms of during winter months, providing emergency shelter regardless of your health condition, regardless of what's happening," said Melissa Robinson, third district councilwoman. "[We] just want to make sure you have somewhere safe to go."
The city used $80,000 in April, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, to provide quarantine rooms at the Rodeway Inn for people experiencing homelessness. However, the project never reached capacity.
KCMO Mayor Quinton Lucas surmised it was because not enough at-risk people knew it was an option. Robinson said she thought the project being so health care-focused limited who could stay there, whereas the new emergency shelter only requires that you are homeless.
Hope Faith's Coordinated Entry team takes calls from people who need help.
People come into Hope Faith for the intake process, which includes medical screenings and a COVID-19 test. Then, the guests are shuttled over to the hotel.
When they arrive, they are assigned two to three caseworkers that will help get them to the next step of stable housing.
"That could be a referral to a supportive housing program, or if they have employment needs or some of those other obstacles, we'll work with them to achieve that," Palacol said. "That could be anywhere from a few days to a couple weeks."
Hope Faith is partnering with Heart to Heart International for medical care, Truman Medical Center, Care Beyond the Boulevard, ReStart, the Greater Kansas City Coalition to End Homelessness, Catholic Charities, Save Inc Outreach, ReDiscover, and KCATC.
Each person will get three meals a day. Hope Faith provides toiletries, which guests can take with them when they leave.
Guests have access to a phone, TV, and free internet in their rooms as well as an 'education center' so people can still do their school work.
As of Friday, four school-aged children were staying at the hotel.
Hope Faith took out the hotel beds and couches and replaced those with cots, sleeping bags, and an air pillow. Jaysen Van Sickle, executive director, said it was important to minimize any damage to the rooms. Their approach, he said, allows them to make the funding last as long as possible.
Security is present at the hotel and guests will walk through a metal detector to access their floor.
"We have security as well as case management to help deescalate any situations that may occur, but we know from our own experiences that those stigmas, those preconceptions are completely untrue most of the time," Palacol said.
This initiative comes at a time when Kansas City groups and agencies are having important conversations about homelessness - after two people were found dead in the cold, encampment sweeps, and a decrease in safe shelter space.
Hope Faith and the city were initially looking to use an abandoned school building for the emergency shelter but couldn't get the occupancy permits.
The Downtown Council of Kansas City was discussing implementing permitted campsites for people experiencing homelessness around the city but the plan was met with push-back from residents.
Homeless outreach groups have recently pointed out glaring problems with the way people experiencing homelessness are treated in the city. These groups met with Mayor Lucas to talk about solutions.
"I was extremely elated we're starting these conversations and I think, given an additional bit of runway, we will be able to be better prepared and serve more people next cycle, but we're excited to step in now," Robinson said.