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Westport homeless camp grows as form of protest

Homeless camp in Westport grows
Posted at 10:11 PM, Mar 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-21 23:56:56-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Homeless camps in Westport and near Kansas City, Missouri, City Hall are meant to be a constant reminder to the public until city leaders take action, according to organizers.

"All the people look at me like I'm disgusting," Ashlea Banks, who has been without a home for the past year, said. "Like we're monsters here. We're not monsters. We're humans."

That's how Banks said she believes people driving by view her and others who have been camping out at Southwest Trafficway and Westport road for the past month.

"All of a sudden, I walk out here and it's like a tent city," Banks said.

What began as a pair of warming tents for people experiencing homelessness during a cold snap around Valentine's Day has grown into more than a dozen tents.

It's named Camp 6ixx -- in honor of Scott "Sixx" Eicke, a man who was experiencing homelessness when he was found dead in the cold on New Year's Day.

Camp 6ixx now is a form of protest.

"It's not gonna go away until we get what we want," Banks said, "and we're not -- we're not getting what we want."

Banks and other people experiencing homelessness want a building to live in.

"To try to get an empty apartment building--anything," James Hanson, who is staying Camp 6ixx, said. "We got plumbers, electricians, all that and we can maintain it, you know, ourselves, we just need a chance."

Amanda Eisenmann is one of the organizers helping those at Camp 6ixx obtain supplies.

"There's empty school buildings, there's empty apartments, there's empty churches," Eisenmann said. "There's no reason that one person should have to lay their head on the ground if they don't want to."

Eisenmann has been involved with outreach for those experiencing homelessness for more than a decade, but she said not much has changed.

"Why are we checking on our friends every hour to make sure they're still breathing?" Eisenmann said. "It's not right, and there's no reason it shouldn't have already been taken care of."

As of Friday, a Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department spokesperson said the department has received at least 50 to 60 complaints in writing and over the phone about this camp.

Because it's city-owned property, police can't do much unless the city orders them to take action.

Kyle Jensen is about to open his chiropractic office across the street from Camp 6ixx.

"To look at a situation like this and as a business owner, it's very easy to see this as a problem for the business -- and I don't necessarily see it that way," Jensen said. "I see it, these are people who are down on their luck in a bad year and we as a community can do better."

Jensen has reached out to city leaders asking about a solution, however he said no one has given him a straight answer.

In a statement to 41 Action News, KCMO spokesperson Chris Hernandez didn’t address Camp 6ixx specifically but said the "issue of encampments" is not new to the city.

"We do our best to offer access to services, such as placement in a shelter," Hernandez said. "This usually happens in partnership with social service agencies who visit the encampments with us to make sure people staying there know where they can get help. You have to realize that some folks value their independence and decline offers of help and/or a bed in a shelter. We continue to work on long-term solutions to the issue of homelessness and expect to announce a major new program in a few weeks."

Hernandez also said the city has spent $8.5 million in the current fiscal year on services for those either experiencing homelessness or who are "at risk of losing their homes."

"This funding, a combination of city and federal funds, has been distributed in the community through two dozen community organizations that provide housing, emergency shelter, outreach, counseling, rent and utility payments and other services," he said. "Additionally, we recently received another $14 million in emergency rent and utility assistance from the federal government as part of COVID relief funding, and the city has contracted with multiple community agencies to distribute the funding."

However, Jensen said he feels the city is responsible for doing more to assist those who are in a "dangerous situation" and help the transition to a more permanent situation.

Eisenmann said that so far, what the city has done is not what those at the homeless camps have requested.

"I think they're not only dragging their feet, but they're almost willfully ignoring it," Eisenmann said. "They've made a task force, but that's not what we asked for."

With the warming center at Bartle Hall closing last week more people have shown up at Camp 6ixx.

Organizers said they will continue to welcome more people to Camp 6ixx until there is no more room.