New efforts are being made to ensure Kansas City’s houseless have a reliable place to park. Last week, local nonprofit Merging KC announced a designated parking site for the unhoused to park their vehicles at night.
Beginning Feb. 15, 15 spots will be available at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, located at 13th and Charlotte on the east side of downtown, from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., according to the press release.
In addition to providing a spot to park their car, on site there will be two portable bathrooms provided by Kansas City’s Downtown Council (DTC), trash cans and places nearby with resources for the unhoused, said co-founder and president of Merging KC, Houston DeFoe.
Merging KC is also working to ensure the parking lot is secure at night. DeFoe said the organization is trying to work with the Kansas City Police Department (KCPD) and the security guards and night rangers from the DTC Community Improvement Districts (CID) to periodically check in on the parking lot while they are on patrol.
In order to fill the spots, DeFoe said Merging KC is reaching out to multiple organizations to find candidates who may be in need of a parking space.
“The Kansas City Public Schools (KCPS) have some families that are in need of places like this,” DeFoe said. “We’re letting the school district know here’s a spot so the counselors at the school can reach out and talk to us.”
Other ideal candidates for the spots could be people who are often seen by KCPD’s Crisis Intervention Team (CIT).
“If they’re noticing a person who they keep stopping because of suspicious party calls, then maybe we can help them find a safe place to park where they won’t be bothered all the time,” DeFoe said.
Any interested party can also reach out either to Merging KC, or St. Mary’s directly, to secure a spot.
There is no set amount of days one person is allowed to occupy a parking spot, as each individual will be a case-by-case situation. DeFoe said most people who are being referred for this project are already working with case workers or local nonprofits. Merging KC will work alongside these entities to phase people in and out of the parking lot based on their personal needs.
The parking lot project was constructed in under a month after St. Mary’s contacted Merging KC back in early January. The church wanted to help the houseless but did not know how, Defoe said. After some discussion, it was decided the best way to provide help was to lend their parking lot, which is currently being unused at night.
The parking lot, which is filled with reserved spaces for government employees to park in during weekdays, has a gate with a combination code to access the parking lot. The unhoused who are permitted to be there at night will be given a code to access it.
“It will allow us to keep track of who’s there and are they allowed to be there,” DeFoe said.
The code also allows the homeless to come and go from the parking lot as they please during the 12-hour window designated for them.
St. Mary’s also has an industrial kitchen and a food permit that may be put to use along with the parking they are providing, DeFoe said. Currently, the church is discussing the possibility of providing sack lunches to the people parked in their lot a couple days a week.
“Thanks to additional resources being donated by other organizations… we can use our parking lot to contribute to the wider effort to eliminate homelessness in Kansas City,” said Rev. Charles Everson, Rector of St. Mary’s.
According to the press release, statistics show that homeless individuals with a vehicle are 40% more likely to self resolve their situation than those without a vehicle. For this reason, DeFoe said, a designated parking site is crucial.
“It gives them some stability, so then the other 12 hours they’re awake they can focus on school work, focus on getting housed, focus on vocational rehabilitation… and focus on getting a job again,” DeFoe said.
The issue with housing the homeless, DeFoe says, is sometimes they are not ready for a house.
“If we take a guy from the park today, and we give them a house tomorrow, then he’s back on the street in four weeks because he doesn’t know how to clean or take care of his laundry, or he has mental health issues, or he should have seen a doctor for meds,” DeFoe said.
By offering the unhoused a place to park their cars instead of immediately moving them into a house, it gives them the ability for a better transition into permanent housing in the future, he added.
He estimates there to be around 100 or so people in Kansas City who have vehicles but are currently houseless, so this parking site is just the first of many Merging KC is hoping to organize in the future.