Resources are expanding for Kansas City’s unhoused families who have lost homes due to COVID-19 as the City has signed an agreement with an area hotel. The City will temporarily house up to 28 families as part of a cold weather family housing initiative.
Director of the Neighborhood and Housing Services Department John Wood gave a report on the City’s unhoused population services and support at the January 7 City Council Business Session.
The City’s unhoused population services emphasizes four areas: funding various service providers and agencies that work with the unhoused population; coordination among City agencies to manage the vacating of encampments – which was called “carrying outreach to offer services” in a memo to the council; the new family rapid re-housing plan; and the Housing Solutions Summit, which Wood said the City Manager will be involved in.
“We have $8.5 million this year dedicated to homeless services, to homeless intervention and mitigation,” Wood said to the Council. “What that is comprised of is $1.5 million that we allocate annually through our CDGB [Community Development Block Grant] Action Plan that you all approve in May of each year.”
The other $7 million is an Emergency Solution Grant COVID-19 relief funds from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). With this, the City is helping to fund 24 agencies, Wood said.
For the new family rapid re-housing program the City is working with the Greater Kansas City Coalition to End Homelessness (GKCCEH) and Hope Faith.
“The idea was to help bring families out of the cold, particularly those that are at risk of being homeless or who are homeless,” Wood said.
The “family atmosphere” will be available 24/7 with social service programs, health and medical services, facilities for students to do virtual learning with Chromebooks provided by Hope Faith, three meals per day provided and security.
“There are more people on the streets this year than perhaps we have seen in recent years,” Mayor Quinton Lucas said at a press conference Wednesday. “We want to make sure that everyone has somewhere to go.”
Wood said they initially worked with Kansas City Public Schools to look into temporarily housing families at the former Wendell Phillips Elementary School at 24th and Vine Street. However, the building did not have fire sprinklers, making it unsuitable. After conversations with city planners and the fire department, the program couldn’t get an occupancy license at that location.
At Thursday’s meeting, Wood said they were coming close to reaching an agreement with a newer hotel in the area for up to 30 families for four to six months. By Monday, the contract had been signed.
The program will be facilitated by Hope Faith, which works to alleviate homelessness and poverty by providing basic necessities and assistance, critical services and programs to empower individuals experiencing homelessness and at-risk individuals to become self-sufficient and independent.
Jaysen Van Sickle, Executive Director of Hope Faith Homeless Assistance Campus, said he is very, very excited for this program to get started. As of January 13, 15 families have moved in according to City Communications Director Chris Hernandez.
“We are still going to be doing exactly what Hope Faith has been doing for the last 11 months on the ground,” Van Sickle said. “We’re going to be providing all kinds of housing solutions.”
The organization will be doing processing and intake at its 50,000 square foot campus at 705 Virginia Ave., which will include COVID-19 tests.
“We have some screening processes, making sure that there’s no registered sex offenders, things of those nature,” Van Sickle said. “There’s agencies that allow that, but for this purpose of families with children and families occupying a space, we want to make sure that we ensure the safest environment for all those families and children.”
Van Sickle said the organization will be evaluating if this particular project is the best place to house them or if they should be connected with another agency that specializes in, for example, victims of domestic violence. All of the guests will be families or single females, and intake will be on a first come, first served basis.
Hope Faith’s citywide hotline will go live later this week. The contract is for January 11 through April 30 for the 30 rooms.
“We already know that people are being evicted whether or not the city says they’re not enforcing the non-eviction rules,” Van Sickle said. “By the time they get around to slapping the landlords on the hand, people are already on the street.”
Hope Faith will have staff on-site around the clock, occupying one of the rooms on the floor they are monitoring. One room will also be reserved for the Heart to Heart International medical team.
“We will be able to provide medical on-site for any urgent or any other types of situations,” Van Sickle said.
Hope Faith will be simultaneously doing rapid re-housing for these families, which means as soon as they check in, the organization’s Coordinated Entry Team will begin caseworking with them to get them connected to benefits, and other resources like housing vouchers or emergency funding they may qualify for.
A shuttle system is in place to take guests from the hotel to Hope Faith’s campus, or to other resource centers. They will also have the ability to use telemed appointments to communicate with staff.
“We don’t want this to be a long-term thing for guests,” Van Sickle said. “We want to get guests checked in, we’re providing them three meals a day.”
“The one thing I keep repeating constantly is that for the last 11 months we’ve still been on the ground, and… we’re still doing this,” Van Sickle said. “We’ve been on the front line since the beginning of this. We still have our entire outside village, we haven’t moved back inside. We’ve converted our warehouse to a warming center, but we’re still following COVID protocols to ensure the safety and security of our community.”
Van Sickle said this is a chance for agencies to come together and work as a community, which they have struggled to do in the past while competing for funding.
Through the Emergency Services Grant CARES Fund, Hope Faith will be reimbursed for what it spends on this project, but received no funding up front.
“I have to report every single penny and how I spend it to get that reimbursed,” Van Sickle said.
Hope Faith will process intakes at its 705 Virginia Ave., not at the hotel. Anyone seeking assistance should go to the Hope Faith campus on Virginia Avenue.