Michael Bushnell

Faced with the possibility of yet another homeless shelter being plunked down in an area that many consider already overloaded with service agencies and shelters, neighborhood leaders from five of the seven Northeast neighborhoods along with local business stakeholders met last Wednesday to express their concerns and request a seat at the table during the formative phase of the decision making process.

The meeting was facilitated by 3rd District City Councilwoman Melissa Robinson and the city’s new Housing Director, Blaine Proctor.

The primary concern of those in attendance was the city’s lack of community engagement with Northeast neighborhoods on the potential location of a new, Low Barrier emergency homeless shelter in the Historic Northeast community.

“What’s being done to make sure that the burden isn’t also placed on this community
because we’re carrying a majority of that load right now,” asked Independence Plaza Neighborhood Council President Cynthia Herrington.

The concerns follow the release of the city’s Cold Weather Plan Summary, along with an Request For Proposals (RFP), that was sent out by the city in August seeking bids to operate a new, Low Barrier emergency shelter that potentially could be located in Northeast.

Former State Representative and Columbus Park resident Henry Rizzo echoed Herrington’s concerns. “We have the highest concentration of public housing in the city, we have millions of dollars being spent by the city and state at Independence and The Paseo. I’m going to do everything I can for the homeless but isn’t there other parts of the city that could pitch in too?” 

 Councilwoman Robinson responded, “We’re here in the Northeast because there was a call to my office saying hey, we believe there’s going to be a low barrier shelter here and we’re already overburdened with this problem. I didn’t want to wait until we made the decision to start the conversation because oftentimes it’s too late.” 

Last year, a handful of agencies in Northeast including Hope Faith Ministries on Admiral Boulevard and Shelter KC’s Women’s Shelter near 11th and Prospect entered the emergency housing game, adding roughly ninety- five beds to the overall mix. Eighty of those were at Hope Faith. Doug Langner, Hope Faith’s Executive Director, stated that his organization had submitted a bid for this year’s RFP.  

Also, community engagement was not part of the RFP process for the new shelter. This fact was sleuthed out by Paseo West Neighborhood President Evie Craig who asked Proctor point blank if neighborhood support was part of the RFP process, noting that her organization requires annual letters of support from community stakeholders. Proctor’s answer, “I don’t believe it was,” confirmed what everyone in the room already knew.

“That’s part of the problem and I don’t know where it all starts,” Craig responded. “Now we’re asking that so late in this process. Blaine, if that wasn’t considered, it seems to me, it just seems to be a huge oversight to say the least.”

Both Robinson and 3rd District At Large City Councilwoman Melissa Patterson-Hazley who joined the meeting in progress expressed concern about the concentration of services in a single area, stating they wanted to make sure that the “entire city shares in this.”

Robinson also stated that the decision for the location and size of the new shelter would be made within the next thirty days, pledging that another community engagement session may be on the horizon.