LTE: Health, safety, and environment

I write to bring to light the adverse effects brought about by the burgeoning transient population that contributes heavily to the ongoing and greatly deteriorating conditions at the Winner Road at I-435 interchange that negatively impact health, safety and our environment.

HEALTH: With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, two of the many ways to be exposed to the virus is through touch and unprotected person-to-person contact and a lack of handwashing before touching eyes, mouth and nose. Retail sales locations have both of these criteria met on a minute-by-minute basis, and are particularly risky with the transients in this area. Between countertops, money exchange, doors etc., this is a perfect transmission opportunity. There are two locations in the immediate area in question at the Winner Road and I-435 interchange. One is a convenience store and the other is a liquor store — both of which seem to be a popular destination for those that find themselves residing in the “off the grid” mentality at Winner Road and I-435. In addition, the mental health issues of many transients, as well as drug and alcohol dependency issues, abound in this population and are not being addressed adequately, if at all. Homeless shelters or affordable housing are nonexistent at this point for many people and makes one wonder if individuals who are “off the grid” would have the ability to maintain affordable housing if it did exist as utilities, yard maintenance etc. should be sustained by the tenant.

SAFETY: The safety of the residents who own or rent homes in this immediate area has been compromised. Neighbors have encountered individuals on or around their private property and have been threatened verbally and physically by these persons, and some are considering leaving the area for their own safety. Furthermore, the persons who are threatening these owners/renters are also a threat to themselves and others they are in contact with. The violence that is perpetrated in this area has tallied up over 241 calls for service by the [Kansas City Police Department] and the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department in calendar year 2019 and shows no sign of slowing any time soon. These calls alone are a huge drain of resources and available officers/deputies to address other calls throughout the city and county. [Kansas City Fire Department] and the ambulance services are equally as stretched due to ongoing activities in this small area. The neighborhood association in the area is not able to address its normal needs for the area either. The ongoing clean-ups, additional demands on neighborhood volunteers and the demands on the association officers is limiting their ability to address quality of life issues and beautification efforts because they have to deal with this ongoing chaos. Their efforts are being overshadowed by the statistical data and opinion that this is one of the most dangerous areas in the city. They can’t do it all!

ENVIRONMENT: The appearance of the area from Winner Road is appalling as is the view from I-435. This is impacting the possibility of attracting new home ownership, business development, or any other improvements for the area. Conditions under the I-435 bridges are equally appalling. Trash, clothing, litter, human waste, material and objects collected by those who frequent the spaces beneath the bridges is overwhelming and needs to [be] addressed immediately by MoDOT. Fires are being set under the bridges in the winter by those that frequent the area so they can stay warm. These fires are slowly taking a toll on the integrity of the bridges. MoDOT has estimated that it would cost $84,000 to “rubbelize” the concrete beneath the bridges, making the space uninhabitable. The cost to repair any portion or all of the bridge due to fire damage would be far more expensive and a huge disruption and inconvenience to all who use I-435. The area has become conducive for this behavior because the support structure is in place to give them a sheltered perch from which to reside. The retail locations in the immediate area find themselves either unable or unwilling to impose limitations or safeguards to filter the customer base that frequent both locations. Either a rule about who can enter the locations or “on site” security to maintain the safeguards of who can or cannot be on the property should be imposed at this time. The circumstances are growing more dangerous by the day. To the west, a short distance from these horrors, there has been recent positive activity for the general area with Custom Truck and Equipment (CTE). The redevelopment of the old Armco Steel plant by CTE has been a blessing with the abatement of blight and also jobs for the area. It’s unlikely the area will see more development until the vagrant issues are addressed.

SOLUTIONS: Solutions are elusive. Dollars are limited, but excuses are not. The retail establishments that are being frequented need to be addressed by Regulated Industries. MoDOT needs to find a better way to maintain their portion of this issue and find the money to “rubbelize” under the bridges. City Council members need to stop redirecting mental health dollars and affordable housing dollars to development deals. The North Blue Ridge Neighborhood Association needs to be given the tools to do more than just “hang in there” and keep swinging at this problem. They are doing all they can to just “hold on” and they need some help.

Dennis Carroll
Historic Northeast resident

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