Sheffield Place expands housing into vacant convent

Abby Hoover
Managing Editor


Sheffield Place, a non-profit treatment and transitional living program at 6604 E. 12th St. has begun construction on a long awaited housing expansion project. The building at 10th and Newton in the Sheffield neighborhood was purchased last year from Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church on Bennington.


Sheffield Place opened in February 1991 in response to the growing population of homeless mothers and their children in the Kansas City area. Since then, the organization has assisted more than 1,200 families in the journey from homelessness to self-sufficiency. They focus on empowering families to heal from severe, chronic and continuous trauma they have experienced as the first step.


Sheffield Place is committed to serving families with multiple barriers to success, including mental health, addiction, domestic violence backgrounds, low educational attainment or felony convictions. The agency embraces Trauma Informed Care and trauma recovery as the first step in healing and provides intensive mental health and addiction recovery services delivered by licensed therapists and experienced case managers.


Although 2020 wasn’t a typical year, Sheffield Place is usually at about 96 or 97% capacity, with just a small percentage being transition time. The families that Sheffield Place has seen this year are a lot higher need than usual because they are having an even harder time finding jobs and getting plugged into resources because of the pandemic.


“We’ve been able to serve between, like, nine and 12% of the number of families that call us for services,” said Sheffield Place President and CEO Kelly Welch. “So we’ve been looking for a way to expand this residential part of our program for almost the whole time I’ve been here.”


Welch joined Sheffield Place about 10 years ago and began looking for the most cost-efficient way to expand. She said the residential program is expensive because it is staff intensive, including five case managers and three therapists.


Sheffield Place has been discussing expansion with the parish for years about their vacant building at 10th and Newton, a former convent. The church, formerly St. Stephens, is a consolidation of many Historic Northeast Catholic churches over the years.


“The proximity is so great that we could put families down there and they could walk up for services, so we don’t have to duplicate staff or services, but we get more living space,” Welch said.


Sheffield Place purchased the building from the parish about a year ago, and recently began demolition on the interior. The project is a culmination of a collective effort in the community.


“As a Finance Committee member, the group was presented the possibility of selling the old convent to Sheffield Place,” said Mark Morales, Sheffield Neighborhood Association (SNA) President and church member. “This community-driven endeavor took over two years, as it included the residents who live close by, as well as other community-minded stakeholders. It was a unanimous decision by our Finance Committee to form this partnership.”


Welch and the staff at Sheffield Place are very excited for the renovation, which will house seven families. Although it doesn’t sound like much, it will increase the number of families they are able to serve by more than 30%. The new housing will be used as a next step for families who have lived at the main facility and been stabilized somewhat but aren’t quite ready to move into permanent housing.


Fixing up and repurposing the building has perks for the neighborhood, too. Welch said the building has sat unused for nearly a decade.


“We all know what happens to vacant buildings,” Welch said. “It was important to us because we kind of use the same philosophy with our permanent housing – our single-family, scattered permanent housing – in that if we can go in and help redevelop a structure, that would impact the whole neighborhood.”


Morales agreed, adding that vacant and dangerous buildings which are not structurally sound are a major challenge in SNA. Across the street from the multi-unit facility were two homes that squatters occupied for numerous years and were the scene of many fires. SNA worked with the City’s dangerous buildings department to prioritize these structures. Years later, they were finally demolished. The neighborhood has had at least seven buildings burned by squatters in the last two years.


“SNA is fortunate to have a stakeholder in our community like [Sheffield Place] to buy homes and have the families occupy them,” Morales said. “They have bought at least nine homes, mostly on Bennington Avenue, and kept the homes up to code and yards neatly manicured.”


Between the parish’s building and Sheffield Place’s facility, the organization owns two houses and a duplex in hopes of helping the neighborhood stay strong by eliminating vacancies. Families rent these houses based on a sliding scale for as long as they desire while they continue to receive case management and other services.


The building will be equipped with outdoor lighting and cameras for safety of residents and neighbors.


“We feel really fortunate that the Sheffield Neighborhood Association is so supportive,” Welch said. “Before we purchased this building, we had neighborhood meetings, and part of that was a city requirement, but we would have done that anyway because we want to be part of the community, not just a business that happens to be in the same neighborhood.”


In another collaborative effort, throughout the pandemic, children living at Sheffield Place have been able to use classroom space in the parish’s empty school building for online learning.


“We wanted to provide a supportive classroom where they could all gather and work on the classroom via Zoom, but also have staff and teachers to provide support and supplemental help,” Welch said.


Sheffield Place wouldn’t be what it is today without support from the neighborhood, and she looks forward to partnering with the neighborhood and the parish more in the future.


“By strengthening our working relationship with Sheffield Place, the neighborhood will benefit in many ways,” Morales said. “SNA has an orchard across the street where the multi-unit transitional living is being rehabbed. This is a dynamic part of our neighborhood where there is an underutilized school, a dynamic church that has many cultural events, a gymnasium and meeting rooms where we hold our monthly meetings.”


Morales referred to the Giving Grove orchard on the northeast corner of 10th and Newton, where the community cares for a variety of trees that produce fruit for them to consume. Welch said the families, especially the children, get a huge kick out of picking apples and other fruits.


“We envision to continue building community with all residents of SNA and to engage with the mothers and their children of [Sheffield Place] with educational and recreational activities and for the families to socialize in the assembly areas of our orchard,” Morales said.


The project is being funded through Sheffield Place’s “A Place to Grow” Capital Campaign, which will also fund renovations in the current facility. Through an outpouring of support from the community, the $1.8 million campaign has reached its goal in gifts and pledges from foundations, corporations, government and individuals.


Once the expansion is complete, Welch said remaining funds will be used to update the shared bathrooms and kitchens in the main facility, which get a lot of wear and tear. With the new space available, they will be able to move residents around and complete the renovations one at a time.
The expansion was supposed to be completed by the end of the year, but with COVID-19 affecting nearly every aspect of the project, Welch anticipates it to be completed and occupied by March.

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