“My gut reaction was I’d rather see Saint Paul’s boarded up with weeds up to my shoulders,” one Blue Valley neighborhood resident told 41 Action News.
Plans to transform the former Saint Paul School of Theology campus into a “one-stop shop” for social services for the community and transitional living for sexually exploited individuals have garnered mixed reviews.
When KC CASE’s lawyer Douglas C. Farchmin discussed the coalition’s plans during the Aug. 15 Blue Valley Neighborhood Association meeting, residents continually talked over him.
“It was not what you would call a fruitful exchange,” said Steven Wagner, president and founder of Renewal Forum, a 501(c)3 non-profit dedicated to abolishing human trafficking in the United States. Renewal Forum is one of the organizations that comprises KC CASE.
“Unfortunately, there’s been a significant amount of misunderstanding regarding this project,” Wagner said.
Blue Valley neighborhood resident Dale Fugate created a flyer outlining KC CASE’s plans for the 19-acre campus and said he simply compiled information from a handout KC CASE provided during one of the Blue Valley Neighborhood Association executive meetings.
Bullet points on the flyers passed out to residents included incorrect information, however, stating that KC CASE would operate an emergency shelter for prostitutes; provide long-term housing for prostitutes, many of whom are there as part of a court order; operate a detention facility in cooperation with the county to house prostitutes serving sentences; and operate a ‘john reform school’ on-site.
Wagner refuted those items during the Aug. 20 City Plan Commission meeting.
“It’s inappropriate to put johns anywhere near victims of sexual exploitation,” he said.
“It’s a huge project,” Fugate said. “All we have is his (Wagner’s) assurances and his assurances, they have changed from this meeting to this meeting. Every time I hear them speak, they address something else, but the plan is wide open. It worries us.”
More than 400 children live within a three-block radius of Saint Paul and the neighborhood already has its share of sexual offenders, Fugate said.
“That’s a beautiful campus, butwhat they’re bringing to our neighborhood is blight,” Fugate said. Other residents testified that the plan would attract additional crime and decrease property values.
“We are not against the mission. They are wonderful people and they do wonderful things, but we are trying to protect our neighborhood,” said David Biersmith, president of the Truman Road Corridor Association.
“If it’s not managed properly, then it can very quickly and easily fall apart,” Blue Valley resident Bonnie Ramos said. “When it falls apart, the neighborhood is going to be worse than it began with.”
Jessica Parle, who finally escaped a life of sexual exploitation, said she’s now a productive citizen of society who’s been clean and sober for seven years.
“Where would you like to put them, if not here?” she said, her voice cracking.”Where would you like them to go? Would you like them cast out on an island?”
Blue Valley Neighborhood Association member Curtis Urness said he supports the initiative.
“I don’t see how a program that is helping people leave this life (of sexual exploitation) will spur more crime,” Urness said. “If I thought so, I would be right with the rest opposing it.”
About three years ago, a fire occurred at the former Manchester school located near Saint Paul as a result of homeless individuals living inside the building, he said.
“When I see these requests for shelters, I have to think, ‘Do I want to have a homeless person living in Saint Paul School of Theology or a structured program with security and incentives to better your lives?” Urness said.
Other residents, including Blue Valley Neighborhood Association President Jacky Ross, echoed Urness’s sentiments and stated the plan could benefit the neighborhood.
To operate the services on campus, KC CASE will need approval for rezoning the campus to a Master Planned Development. The City Plan Commission voted to table the case for four weeks.
KC Case Partners
Originally, KC CASE listed the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph Human Rights Office as a partner on its website, but the Diocese’s name was removed last week.
Asked why the Diocese was removed from the website, Wagner told Northeast News, the Diocese requested to be removed and that, “They were never envisioned as a material participant. They were never envisioned as a tenant or investor, so it has no impact on our plans.”
In its action plan, KC CASE had listed the Archdiocese of Kansas City in several objectives, including filling service gaps for victims, developing a victim services protocol, conducting a feasibility study of the Saint Paul campus, among other action steps. The Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph was slated to be an advocate of enforcing existing laws regarding juvenile exploitation, use municipal tools to isolate sexually oriented businesses (SOB), interview SOB employees and offer them an alternative to exploitation, among other initiatives. Both the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph and the Archdiocese of Kansas City have since been removed from the action steps.
Northeast News contacted the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph Human Rights Office, which provided an explanation for requesting their name’s removal from the website.
“When the Saint Paul’s project got going and they put us out there as partners, I said, ‘No, you can’t do this. We’re not a part of the Saint Paul’s project at all,'” said Jude Huntz, chancellor for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. “We had never committed to being a part of any large scale project like that because it’s not our mission. It just goes beyond our scope of abilities here.”
The Dioceses’ early involvement in KC CASE, Huntz said, included working with a University of Kansas doctorate student who was completing a doctoral dissertation regarding human trafficking in Kansas City. The student worked with the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph Human Rights Office and Catholic Charities. Huntz said the Human Rights Office connected the student to KC CASE for research assistance.
Other partners listed on the KC CASE website include Veronica’s Voice and Ozanam. Veronica’s Voice has been vocal about its involvement with KC Case, but Ozanam has remained silent. Northeast News contacted Ozanam to clarify the services it will offer.
While Veronica’s Voice would be in charge of operating transitional living for women, Ozanam would be in charge of operating transitional living for juveniles, both boys and girls. Both the women and juvenile sites would be staffed 24/7 and secure.
Saint Paul Transitional Living
“There’s very few programs in the United States that provide services exclusively for sexually exploited kids,” said Dorothy Loyd, KC Case Board member and vice president of clinical and community services for Ozanam.
Only about 45 shelter beds in the U.S. cater exclusively to that population, she said.
It’s estimated that every year about 1,650 juveniles in the Kansas City metro area are sexually exploited. That number is most likely too low, Wagner said.
Loyd said it’s difficult to obtain an accurate count due to the lack of available services for sexually exploited juveniles.
“We don’t have the services for them, so when the police find them, there’s nothing for them to do. It’s catch and release basically,” Loyd said. “Part of it is it’s hard to ask the questions when you don’t have any services for them. Then, what do you do? That’s been the whole dilemma.”
Those juveniles then become stuck in human trafficking as an adult, she said.
“I know the hardest thing to make people understand is these women have no other opportunities. They don’t,” Loyd said of prostituted persons. “Everybody says it’s a choice, a victimless crime. It’s not. They’re trying to survive. I figure if we can stop kids when they’re young from getting into it, then maybe there’s going to be less that end up as adults stuck in this trap.”
The juvenile transitional housing would be licensed through the state of Missouri and would be available for 30 to 45 days for individuals. The goal is to stabilize the juveniles, provide immediate trauma based treatment and then connect them to specialized treatment foster homes, Loyd said.
“There’s no specific location that just takes care of empowering this population and we’re really here to be a community asset and also empower these women to move forward in their lives,” said Kristy Childs, founder of Veronica’s Voice, a Kansas City-based advocacy and survivor recovery program dedicated to victims of prostitution, commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking. “This is for women committed to the challenge of pushing forward.”
Women in the program could live on campus for up to two years, although special exceptions may be made. Programs would help women cope with their complex traumas and connect them to education resources as well as job placement.
Asked why it’s important to reach out to this population, Childs said, “Because they’re human beings. Unfortunately, society’s never looked at it that way. I just honor the fact
and encourage them to honor the fact that they’ve survived up until the point they’ve made it to us… We want to see them become self-sufficient and move forward, and empower them to become the women they truly were created to be.”
Childs said she understands the community’s fe
ars regarding this type of campus as well as the stigmas attached. She knows how residents look down on prostituted individuals and say that prostitutes add to the blight of neighborhoods.
“Why wouldn’t people want to see them off the street? We know that jail doesn’t work, so we need to really think more progressively with what’s worked in other places and recognize these are human beings and they deserve to have services to help them do something different,” she said.
Multiple arrests for prostitution takes a toll on law enforcement, both in officer resources and financially, she said. There are other issues in the city, like Kansas City’s homicide rate, that need to be addressed. Providing services to the sexually exploited population will get them off the streets and on their way to become productive citizens, she said.
Some area residents have argued the facility could become a magnet for pimps, Wagner said. But, the facility is geared toward individuals ready to leave that life behind and evidence backs up the fact that pimps will simply find someone else to work for them, he said.
As for financially maintaining the campus and its programming, cash flow would come through operating a catering business and possibly a thrift store. In addition, the organizations operating the programs on-site would be responsible for paying rent and utilities. Each operator has their own financial model for raising or acquiring funds, Wagner said. Ozanam, for example, receives a majority of funding from the state of Missouri. To support the Saint Paul initiative, Veronica’s Voice recently launched an online Indiegogo campaign with the goal of raising $25,000 to go toward operating the housing facility for women.
The need for a center like the one at Saint Paul is great, Wagner said.
“It’s a very compelling issue once you start looking at it and you realize how extensive the problem is and how unaddressed it is, how little we’re doing as a society to address the problem,” Wagner said. “You develop a concern that makes it hard to walk away from it. Frankly, part of it’s patriotism. I have a view of the kind of place that America should be and that view does not allow for a quarter of a million kids to be exploited by sexual predators. That’s not the America I want to see.”