NewsLocal News


Transforming empty KCPS DeLano School into teen homeless shelter

District serves more than 1,100 homeless students
Posted: 3:26 PM, May 09, 2024
Updated: 2024-05-13 20:20:37-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — School districts often fulfill a role of providing more than education — food, hygiene care, legal needs and education for parents.

Through the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, school districts can assist students experiencing homelessness, too.

Kansas City has recently seen an increase in both sheltered and unsheltered homeless kids.

"They are by themselves, they have to advocate for themselves, they have to figure it out for themselves; that’s a heavy load for a 12-year-old, that’s a heavy load for some adults,” said Melissa Douglas, Kansas City, Missouri, Public Schools' Mckinney-Vento homeless liaison.

A KCPS feasibility study, completed by IFF, a nonprofit lender, developer, and real estate consultant, found Kansas City received more than 1,500 requests for youth to be sheltered over the last two years.

Of the 1,500, only 25% who applied were able to access housing, due to limited capacity.

But KCPS has big plans to help homeless students in east Kansas City.

Right across from Central High and Central Middle School is the DeLano School.


DeLano opened in 1938 and initially served students with mental and physical disabilities.

However, the school’s been empty for a decade.

Because the abandoned school’s surrounding area is where many kids are experiencing homelessness, its purpose is now being re-imagined to better serve the community.

KSHB 41 News reporter Megan Abundis spent weeks working with KCPS and area homeless resources to provide an exclusive look at the project.


Melissa Douglas, KCPS' Mckinney-Vento homeless liaison, can see the vision.

“That is going to be a huge great project," she said.

Her goal is to meet the immediate needs of KCPS families.

Day-to-day, Douglas identifies homeless students and helps them secure transportation to school and access food, which helps them fully participate in school. She said 1,176 teens were homeless last year.


The definition of a homeless student is someone who "lacks a fixed regular and adequate nighttime residence," Douglas said.

“The number one obstacle in getting services to families is transportation,” Douglas said. “We have social services agencies on the east, families on the west, north or south, so access to transportation to the family becomes an obstacle.”

Establishing a centrally located resource is important to Douglas.

She said the proposed project for the DeLano property will equip the campus with extensive support services.

“We have to have this in our community; we have to have this," Douglas urged. "The reason being is because there are so many unaccompanied youths that are in the foster care system or they have fled their homes from any kind of violence, or they just didn’t feel safe. Where is a safe place for them to go? Not on the street. So, where are they going to go?”

With DeLano, youth from 14 to 21 years old could access an emergency shelter, transitional living programs and a drop-in center — all with complete services.

Screenshot 2024-05-08 at 3.26.50 PM.png

“It is a grand idea, and we know it can work because we’ve seen it work in a couple of other places," Douglas said. "DeLano itself is a heavy lift. I will not tell you it is not.

Teen support services would include:

  • Access to case managers;
  • Mental health services;
  • Support for education, job training and financial planning;
  • Support in accessing physical health services;
  • Access to art, music and other therapeutic programming;
  • Cooking classes;
  • Rotating programs.

Drop-in center services would include:

  • Food service;
  • Laundry and showers with storage;
  • Case management;
  • Mental health and substance use disorder support;
  • Physical health, tele health access;
  • Vital documents storage and access.

A group of staff members from KCPS, reStart and KCMO city partners traveled to Dallas to visit the Fannie C. Harris Youth Shelter, a school that was repurposed for homeless teens.
The group observed how the site worked in order to better advise the DeLano remodel.

GALLERY | KCPS staff, KC service providers visit a repurposed school for homeless teens in Dallas, Texas


Stephanie Boyer, reStart CEO, is in on the DeLano project. She brings expertise from overseeing a teen shelter in east Kansas City.


“We do youth programs, families, individuals, veterans, we do everybody, so it gives us a unique lens," Boyer said. "It often feels overwhelming because we really see the increase happening across the board in all of those things.

Boyer said the goal is to provide enough resources and help enough people she's "put out of a job."

“If we can create enough resources and create enough long-term housing for folks that they can afford and they can have safe housing, then there won’t be the need for all of these things," she said.

But for now, she said there are still obstacles to overcome.

“Total among us (service providers) there’s 75 spots for kids, and we have 1,100 kids on that waitlist in that age range from 16-21 that need a place to stay,” Boyer said. “That’s really scary and makes me concerned for our future, our future workforce, future leaders; these kids are really struggling and at risk. There is so much need that we could honestly probably use a youth campus like this east, north, south. I think what we’re going to find is that one isn’t enough.”

Boyer showed Abundis around the teen shelter, where she spoke with the kids staying there.


“These kids each have hopes and dreams, right ... some of the kids talk about them — they want to own the salon and be the CEO, be the boss,” Boyer said. “It’s so easy for that to be diminished and for them to lose hope in that when they can’t seem to gain any ground.”

Shannon Jaax, of Jaax Street Partners, believes if kids don’t find a path of support, they’ll stay on a path of struggle.

“Home, stability, love, and support,” Jaxx said.

As a KCPS consultant, Jaax is making sure the DeLano project comes together.


She said her team recently met with Youth4Change and Central High School teens, some of whom were previously homeless. The group engaged in dot poll exercises to inform interior buildings and give their input on the project's design, too.

Jaax said the following renderings reflect both design principles and feedback from engaged youth.

Screenshot 2024-05-08 at 3.32.54 PM.png
Screenshot 2024-05-08 at 3.33.13 PM.png

“So when I hear kids say, 'Oh my goodness, there is a need for this, this would be so fantastic, can we do a fundraiser to make this happen?' I feel we’ve got to do this community; we’ve got to do this," Jaax said.

Construction at the DeLano site is estimated to cost around $24 million, and yearly operating costs are estimated to be between $2-5 million.

Jaax said the funding would come from various private and public sources, including philanthropy capital campaigns and tax credits as the site is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

“If we can utilize district research, work with the community to make it happen — so that not only do they have housing, but supportive services — that’s what we need to be doing,” Jaax said.

Douglas, Boyer and Jaax all agree a big solution is needed for the large number of students in need.

“We need to rehab the building, we need the beds, we need a safe place for children to be children so they can grow, develop and learn certain skills that they may be missing. You can’t be a great adult if you’re not a great kid,” Douglas said.

Jaax provided some history on this project. About a decade ago, KCPS said the Historic East Neighborhoods group requested a project like DeLano. Despite the passion for a solution for teen homelessness, the funding never came together.

But now, Jaax said she the needs of the community are better understood as the DeLano project is in motion.

The entities involved in the project put out a request for a service provider to make further moves. It is due in May.

You can find more info here.