Unhoused people started a fire on Cliff Drive between gates one and two on Tuesday afternoon, sparking frustration among residents of Historic Northeast and recreational users of Kessler Park.
A video of the fire was posted in Northeast Facebook groups, and neighbors shared concern for the people camping there, the historic but crumbling Cliff Drive, an already environmentally stressed Kessler Park, and the larger problem of homelessness in Northeast Kansas City.
The video shows a gray smoke billowing out of a barrel, furniture, tents, and garbage right alongside Cliff Drive, which is closed to vehicle traffic but used by pedestrians and bikes.
The fire, which neighbors and park advocates are hoping brings to light the illegal activity in the park, prompted the Kessler Park/Cliff Drive Conservancy to pen a letter to Mayor Quinton Lucas, Third District Council People Melissa Robinson and Brandon Ellington, and Fourth District Council People Katheryn Shields and Eric Bunch.
“We respectfully ask that you address the homelessness problem plaguing Kessler Park and Cliff Drive,” the letter reads. “We ask that you come see first hand for yourself the trash, human waste, and living conditions that you all allow in our oldest and most historic park in Kansas City.”
“To say we are disappointed in city leadership is a vast understatement,” the letter continues. “Neighbors are concerned for their safety and getting angry at the not just the lack of concern by city leadership but the pure funneling of homeless folks to Kessler Park and throughout the Historic Northeast. Camping is not allowed at any other park….why here?”
Neighbors report the camp has grown exponentially over the past month, starting with a single tent, but there are now upwards of eight.
The City of Kansas City, Mo., and the Parks and Recreation Department have removed and cleaned up camps in the city’s parks, including on the front steps of City Hall, in a median in Westport, and at the former Belvidere Park at Independence and Paseo ahead of Paseo Gateway construction starting later this month.
Cliff Drive is a winding path that meanders through Kessler Park above the banks of the Missouri River. Nearby, 100-year-old houses stand close together, shaded by canopies of mature trees. In drier months, Northeast is a kindling box.
Neighbors have seen that unhoused people in camps have often started fires to cook, burn trash and stay warm. On March 2 in Jackson County, a special weather statement was issued for a “very high fire danger,” due to dry conditions and wind gusts occasionally around 20 to 25 miles per hour. With humidity values dropping down to around 10%, stronger gusts could make for dangerous conditions should a fire ignite, the National Weather Service in Kansas City/Pleasant Hill, Mo., reported.
The City of Kansas City, Mo., has implemented strategies for people wanting to get in out of the elements, but has not finalized a policy for those who choose to remain outdoors. Plans for a designated, monitored campsite homes remain unsuccessful.
The Park Department had not responded to a request for comment at the time of publication. This article will be updated to reflect a response if one is received.
Residents can report illegal dumping by calling 311. For a Park Ranger, call 816-799-7521 or email email@example.com. In an emergency, call 911.