Close to 200 people, over 100 of which were in person, packed the offices of the Northeast Chamber of Commerce Wednesday evening to express their concerns to Kansas City city manager Brian Platt over a city-issued RFP (Request For Proposals) that would put yet another low-barrier homeless shelter in the Northeast community.
That RFP, along with a surprise city ordinance introduced by Mayor Quinton Lucas last week, unbeknownst to the community coalition fighting the shelter, would award Hope Faith Ministries near Admiral Boulevard and The Paseo roughly $7.1 million dollars for the purpose of operating and maintaining a low barrier homeless shelter over the next fiscal year.
The prevailing concern expressed by residents Wednesday was that the Northeast community is already doing more than its fair share when it comes to the location of agencies that cater to the city’s homeless population.
“My biggest problem is that Northeast, right now, has 80% of the city’s public housing units within its boundaries,” said former State Representative Henry Rizzo, a longtime Columbus Park resident. “Northeast now has three of the top homeless programs within eight blocks of each other,” Rizzo continued. “Nobody in this room is against the homeless, all we’re saying is that other parts of the city need to share this too,” Rizzo said.
Jeff Albright, Columbus Park’s incoming President, echoed Rizzo’s concerns. In a written statement from the Columbus Park Neighborhood Association, Albright stated, “We remain steadfast in our position that a single, low barrier shelter in a city of over 300 square miles is unsafe and unsustainable. Consolidating vulnerable people is against best practices and guidelines and ignores the over $30 million investment in the Paseo Gateway Project.”
Both Rizzo and Albright cited a stark lack of transparency in this RFP process in particular, noting that there was no public engagement component in the RFP, something City Housing Director Blaine Proctor admitted to Northeast stakeholders in a previous meeting in December at Kansas City University.
City Manager Brian Platt seemingly brushed aside concerns about transparency, stating that meetings such as these are sometimes called by the city and sometimes called by the community, such as in this case. “I just want to note that this is part of the public engagement process,” Platt said. “Ordinances require council votes and there have been no votes yet.”
Representatives from the Pendleton Heights and Scarritt Renaissance neighborhoods also expressed concerns about concentrating a high number of houseless people in a community that is already saturated with agencies that focus on the unhoused population.
Doug Langner, Hope Faith’s Executive Director, acknowledged the community concerns with stating that the community’s concerns are the concerns of Langner and his wife, noting he’s a Kansas City native who has lived for the last eight years in the city’s East Village area, a nine minute walk from Hope Faith.
Langner then pivoted, making an emotional plea that he wished he could have a busload of Hope Faith clients at the meeting, “that are right now in our doors, out of the cold so you can see the human face of what’s going on in our city and the solution that’s happening tonight.”
Public comments continued through the course of the meeting, most all centered on the dropping of another homeless advocacy organization in Northeast instead of following HUD’s scattered site practices for homeless service organizations.
One segment of the homeless population that wasn’t addressed were those that continually refuse services when they’re offered, choosing to pack their things and move to a new location in the community. Pendleton Heights resident John Bordeau stated, “It’s not a ‘not in my back yard issue’ because we already have it here in our backyard. We’re already challenged here to bring economic development to our community,” Bordeau continued. “To get to Pendleton Heights from the west, you have to drive the gauntlet of either Independence (Avenue) or Admiral (Boulevard). You have to drive the gauntlet of tents, and trash and people struggling with addiction and I just want to say again, we stand with the other neighborhoods, we’re gravely concerned about more strain on this already fragile area.”
Following the meeting, Paseo West neighborhood President Evie Craig was optimistic that the ordinance would be pulled and that the flawed RFP offered no community engagement despite what the City Manager may have eluded to. “It is simply untrue that it is part of the city’s process to do community engagement after the contract has been awarded,” Craig stated. “This was not part of their community engagement, they had to be dragged here. The public engagement is nowhere in the more than 100 pages, with all the appendices that they put there and if they presented otherwise, the city is not being factually accurate.”
Third District Councilwoman Melissa Robinson was hopeful that she and fellow Third District Councilwoman Melissa Patterson Hazley could get the ordinance pulled in next Tuesday’s committee hearing, stating that she would be meeting with the Mayor and her council colleagues to make sure that the decision on this RFP didn’t take place in a vacuum. “We have a cold weather shelter program in place right now,” Robinson said. “We have multiple sites in the city where there’s a smaller number of people taking shelter at night,” Robinson continued. “So the argument that it’s the economy of scale does not fly.”
The ordinance will be discussed this coming Tuesday, January 23, during the city’s Finance Committee meeting. The Northeast News will have a complete update following that meeting.