Hope Faith Homeless Assistance Campus at 705 Virginia Ave. in Paseo West has served more than 6,300 people at its overnight shelter since December 1 as part of the City’s extreme weather plan, and has been happy to do so, Executive Director Doug Langner told the Northeast News.
Otherwise, the campus is a daytime operation, and Langner, who has been in the role for just a year, is focused on fulfilling basic needs and solidifying the organization’s mission – alleviating homelessness and poverty by providing basic necessities and assistance, as well as providing critical services and programs to empower individuals experiencing homelessness and at-risk individuals to become self-sufficient and independent.
Hope Faith is expanding those opportunities with a new program, Clean Up KC, which is designed for those experiencing homelessness to have access to a part-time job without struggling to meet all of the criteria of a typical job. The program has proved that with access to a stable income and wraparound services provided by Hope Faith, the amount of time an individual experiences homelessness is significantly impacted.
Clean Up KC, which is mainly litter and illegal dumping removal, started in September with a crew of five.
“It’s meant to be a 90-day program,” Langner said. “When we started all five were homeless. Four of the five got housed, and we’re still working with that fifth one, the one that hasn’t been housed.”
Now, they have a new crew of 10, with two of the original group returning and everyone else moving on to other employment. Every Friday, the crew goes to Bishop Sullivan Center on Truman Road for job coaching.
“We did rehire two of the five, and the only reason we did that now is we felt there would be good to have someone that’s been through this, not only the work, which is immense, but also that like, ‘Hey, I had a rough day too. I made it through, you can do it,’ type of thing.”
In just two weeks with the new crew, they’ve cleaned up around Arrowhead before the AFC Championship Game, and have focused on areas of Northeast that haven’t been touched in a while.
“We’re willing to go anywhere, especially Third District or Fourth District is kind of our general area, but we helped in Columbus Park that doesn’t have its own [Community Improvement District],” Langner said. “We just want to make the city better and improve the lives of the people we serve. And I think in another major way, Hope Faith wants to show the community we’re here to improve the community, too, not just do the work we do.”
Many of the crew had been unemployed and unhoused for a long, long time.
“One of the things we have to retrain them – to reiterate, they are a part of our community and that means responsibility, that we do things like that, not just because they’re getting paid, but everyone wants a nice safe place to live – a lot of our folks, their self esteem is low, and so this is another way to reintegrate them into each community,” Langner said.
He wants his guests to know that people care and no one’s given up on them.
“Some of the neatest experiences in our first crew of Clean Up KC – and we encourage this all the time – is if there’s community groups that want to go out with them, one, that gives our crew a chance to teach, because a lot of them just need to know they can be a leader, and two, then that interaction of different people in the community with people that have experienced houselessness and are doing something cool to improve their lives,” Langner said.
For Clean Up KC, there is an interview process, and for the second group, 25 people applied. Not everyone is ready for daily employment for many reasons, but Hope Faith helps them get there.
“If you’ve been rough sleeping and you haven’t made some initial steps, going to work that next day isn’t necessarily going to be your best bet,” Langner said. “We’d like to keep advancing this and growing this, but we’re learning, too, it’s a new program. So the interview process was definitely competitive, but it was neat because a lot of the folks that didn’t make it often doesn’t mean that they’re not going to make it. A lot of times we have to deal with basic things like: Do you have your ID? You know, things to make it legal to be employed.”
The first crew was paid $15 per hour, which was funded through the City’s Public Works Department.
“We knew there was enough in the budget that we just asked them with our second crew, ‘Could we bump that to $18 an hour?’ And they were emphatically, ‘Yes,’” Langner said. “So they’re $18 an hour, it’s not full time work, it’s about 20 hours a week for them.”
Hope Faith helps the crew get set up with bank accounts and teaches financial literacy.
“A lot of people in this, unfortunately, didn’t get some of those soft skills that other people did,” Langner said. “And what’s great is that they’re learning quick. They’re motivating each other and quite frankly, it’s just a neat thing for them to reach out to other folks that maybe aren’t quite there yet and say, ‘Hey, you, I was at your spot, you can do this too. That tent is not the way to go. Come inside.’”
The Hope Bus, which transported people experiencing homelessness anywhere they needed to go in the city, has been repurposed to transport the Clean Up KC crew. As ridership dwindled, Hope Faith took the opportunity to focus its resources elsewhere.
“Transportation is a huge need, and if we go back to that, I think we need to have better measures of success, with the [City] buses being free,” Langner said. “Now that the buses have gone to zero fare, one of the unintended consequences is there’s a lot of what they call loop riding, and so we’re in conversations with them, and they actually reached out to us about doing outreach to get people connected to services, and quite frankly, to not just loop ride, I mean, that’s not a long term solution.”
When Langner arrived at Hope Faith, he quickly saw that the organization had many good ideas and lots of programs that were not funded well enough to be successful.
“It was starting to put some pressure on the organization as a whole, and I think we needed to focus in on our mission and to me that is moving people from homelessness to success, you know, getting people off the streets, out of tents, and moving their life forward,” Langner said.
He hopes neighbors have noticed fewer tents along The Paseo and Independence Avenue, especially since the overnight shelter has opened.
“No one should live in a tent,” Langner said. “I firmly believe that we’ve got the ability to house people.”
He’s working on a different strategy than what the City and other homeless assistance organizations were operating under – just let them be.
“Living on the streets is dangerous, and if you’re a woman, it’s 10 times as dangerous,” Langner said. “So my approach is do outreach, do outreach, do outreach. Then if some people still want to stay in a tent, I think you actually need to move them on. Not because you want to be cruel, not because they don’t deserve a dignified place to live, but a tent isn’t it.”
Langner and outreach staff at Hope Faith know some people are using the tents to traffic humans or drugs.
Since opening the winter shelter, they’ve been having more than 100 people a night, and more when it’s cold.
“If they weren’t inside our shelter, they would be around our community,” Langner said.
However, Hope Faith is not just focused on the night-to-night shelter, but a long-term strategy to get people off the streets.
According to a recent Point In Time count by the Greater Kansas City Coalition to End Homelessness, there are at least 1,798 unhoused people in Kansas City on any given night, but Langner wouldn’t be surprised if it’s many thousands in various degrees of homelessness.
Hope Faith is working with other agencies that focus on sustainable housing, and working with other agencies that will support people in transitional housing and beyond.
“I think Hope Faith’s lane is getting people off the streets, and that’s our main aim, and then pushing policymakers to make sure there’s resources to move people beyond into affordable, sustainable housing,” Langner said.
He likes the City’s Zero KC plan, which is a blueprint for eliminating homelessness, and wants his organization to assist in implementation.
In planning for the future, Hope Faith is embarking on a strategic plan.
An area plan, which has recently been shared around the community, was done by an architect “imagining things,” Langner said.
“We don’t know where that’s going, so none of that – while I’m fine, I’ll share it with anybody – I do want to make sure people know there’s been zero intention of, ‘Hey, we’re going to set up a long-term shelter,’” Langner said.
Eventually, and as part of their strategic planning process, they’ll see what the needs of the community are and go from there. They are in no way planning expansion.
“When I got here, if it would have kept on the trajectory Hope Faith was going, Hope Faith would not have been here two years,” Langner said. “So my aim of year one – I just finished my first year here – was mission and stability, period, nothing more, nothing less. That was getting us right sized, so that actually meant a reduction in our staff at the beginning and honing in and who we are.”
They went back to the basics.
“How do we get people off the street? That’s our goal, and that I think has been very successful in year one,” Langner said. “So sadly, the only expansion we’ve had is more people are coming here this past year than the year before that. I think a lot of that had to do with COVID and capacity issues, but we don’t have any immediate things other than, ‘How do we make a deeper impact in what we do?’”
There is a need for low barrier emergency shelter, based on the numbers they see each night. Langner is glad they come to Hope Faith, but wonders why the capacity isn’t built up elsewhere.
“Where are homeless people first and foremost? They’re everywhere, but the vast majority are right here,” said Langner, a downtown resident. “I live a nine-minute walk, proud to say, from Hope Faith, and I walk most days. So I’m someone who lives here, plays here, works here. I want to have a safe, clean, vibrant community. And that’s where Hope Faith is going to ask the community, ‘How do we do that?’”
He thinks, with a more regional approach, solutions can be found that are great for all communities.
Langner said the upcoming Super Bowl parade, the NFL Draft, a potential Royals Stadium and other big, impactful things coming to downtown are positive for the City, but will affect the homeless population and Paseo West. But he’s looking forward to opportunities for organizations in the immediate vicinity, like the Royals could be, to work with Hope Faith on workforce development.
“I think it’s something we ought to remember, it’s not only, ‘What is Hope Faith’s mission?’ but, ‘How does it affect our community?’” Langner said. “Call us up, voice your concerns, because they’re probably my concerns as well as someone who lives in, invests in, downtown.”
The organization will focus on growing Clean Up KC, putting in work in areas that have seen continued under-investment, workforce development, getting people housed, and contributing to the vibrant and diverse community of Northeast and downtown.
Heading into the new year, and his second year at the organization that was founded in 2004, he’s focused on solidifying Hope Faith’s mission, getting people off the streets.
“Now that we’re much more stable than when I walked in the door, it’s doing a little bit longer term planning, and honestly, the other priority is to help implement some of the City’s plan,” Langner said. “I want to hold them accountable. I want them to hold us accountable. Because I do think everyone in Kansas City, Northeast, downtown, we do want to see this problem solved – one of the biggest problems I think we have is homelessness in our areas, and effects of it, not only the trash, but sometimes the crime, sometimes other things, and just the human tragedy. I mean, we’ve had a lot of people die in the last year and so that’s my biggest priority for this year.”
Hope Faith has a few open board positions, and Langner would be happy to put Northeast residents who want to bring a community perspective in touch with the board.
“I’m a firm believer that you have to grow community, and so if anyone in the Northeast community or downtown community wants to get involved in that or a different way, I’m all ears because that’s how we make an impact,” Langner said.