Catholic Diocese Serves Controversy with Plan to Move Homeless Breakfast Program

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The Catholic Chancery at 20 W. Ninth St. looms over Baltimore Avenue. The church bought the historic New York Life building in 2010 to house its administrative offices for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.

By Kevin Collison

A storm is brewing over the Catholic Diocese’s desire to relocate its breakfast ministry for the homeless to its Chancery building in the heart of the Library District, a downtown area with hundreds of apartments and many small businesses.

A spokesperson for the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph said the move depends on fundraising, but it’s already raised fears in the neighborhood about the prospect of scores of homeless people coming to their area daily.

“We are very concerned about the current plan and we hope the Diocese will be willing to engage with the community to discuss the best ways to provide serves to the folks who need them,” said Bill Dietrich, president and CEO of the Downtown Council.

Executives at McCownGordon, which is next door to the Chancery, also known as The Catholic Center, at 20 W. Ninth St., were briefed by Bishop James V. Johnston Jr., the leader of the Diocese, a few weeks ago.

The Morning Glory ministry for the homeless is currently located at Donnelly Hall, the former Cathedral parish school on Broadway.The gold steeple of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception is in the background.

Sheri Johnson, spokesperson for McCownGordan, said her firm didn’t object to the idea, but did express concerns about how it could affect employees.

“Our parking (garage) is adjacent to the entry to the breakfast area and church leaders seemed open to our concerns that our associates would want to feel safe,” she said.

“They said they plan to have security on site…We’ll be having ongoing conversations.”

Bishop Johnston said the breakfast program for the homeless is an important charity.

“Caring for the poor, the hungry and those in need is central to the mission of the Catholic Church. The Cathedral and The Catholic Center serve a central role for the local Church of Kansas City-St. Joseph,” Johnston said in an email.

“I live in The Catholic Center (Chancery) building and consider it my home, and the surrounding area my neighborhood, too. It is our duty and our privilege to serve the homeless and hungry in our neighborhood.”

Morning Glory Ministries temporarily hosted the NourishKC lunch program for the homeless when its the Downtown Community Services Center building was damaged after a pipe burst.

The plan to relocate the breakfast ministry called Morning Glory Ministries is connected to a big capital improvement plan by the Diocese to upgrade its complex centered on the Church of the Immaculate Conception at 12th and Broadway.

The Morning Glory ministry, which feeds an average of 100 individuals daily six days a week, is currently housed in Donnelly Hall. Homeless people queue outside the entrance along Broadway between 11th and 12th streets in the early mornings.

The $14 million “Building Glory” Diocesan campaign originally planned to renovate its existing rectory at 416 W. 12th St. for Morning Glory, but later scrapped the idea and decided to demolish that building instead to provide more parking.

The Diocese looked at other locations before choosing the Chancery which is in the historic New York Life building. The Diocese purchased the structure in 2010. It formerly housed the Aquila corporation.

The Downtown Council has pitched the Diocese on relocating Morning Glory to the Community Services Center it operates at 750 The Paseo. The building offers a lunch program as well as social and medical services for the homeless population.

Church officials however, believe it is important to continue the program under the auspices of the Catholic Church.

“The (Morning Glory) ministry is central to the mission of the Catholic Church,” said Ashlie Hand, a spokeswoman for the Diocese.

“With the constraints placed on the current location, the bishop saw an opportunity to continue that mission and align it with the hub at the Chancery.”

The Downtown Council Community Services Center is at 750 Paseo.

In a follow-up email, Hand stated “the Catholic Center’s close proximity to the Cathedral allows clients of Morning Glory Ministries a walkable alternative once the Cathedral is under construction.

“The Catholic Center has a cafeteria, kitchen and dining room that are not being used, originally built for the employees of Aquila when they renovated the building.

“Up until 2017, the poor and homeless received services on this block throughout the day when Catholic Charities was in the building now occupied by McCownGordon.

“Since Catholic Charities’ move to another location, we have desired this element of charitable outreach from the diocese in this area of downtown.”

Craig Slawson, who owns the former University Club building about a half block from the Chancery, said the Downtown Council facility on The Paseo would be a good fit for the breakfast program.

“I am confused and dismayed by the approach especially since the Downtown Council has done a splendid job with their efforts on The Paseo,” he said.

“As an investor in downtown Kansas City and with four buildings on Baltimore, we have worked hard to activate and promote the charming streetscape within the District.

“Finally we have seen a marked decrease in the homeless population in the last year in good part due to the Downtown Council… I hope the Diocese could embrace their platform vs splitting efforts.”

Craig Slawson owns the former historic former University Club building at 918 Baltimore.

Hand said in her email that Morning Glory leaders are concerned their clients won’t want to use the Downtown Council facility.

“The Downtown Council’s Community Services Center serves an important role in our community for its clients, but we believe there needs to be more than one solution to
help the homeless in the downtown area,” she said.

“Many of those currently being served by MGM will not relocate to the DTC Services Center for reasons of trust, familiarity, relationships, transportation barriers and comfort.”

Jason Swords, who owns the historic Cosby Hotel across Ninth Street from the Chancery, said the proposal could be difficult for his tenants which include the Milwaukee Delicatessen.

“Everybody is up in arms,” he said. “It’s a bad idea, but I don’t know how you can talk the Diocese out of doing something.”

Hand emphasized the desire to relocate Morning Glory to the Chancery is “absolutely not a done deal,” and depends on fundraising. Still, she said there are no other locations in mind for the program.

NourishKC serves meals to the homeless from the kitchen and dining facility in operates on the lower level of the Downtown Community Services Center.

“This is the most likely location if we can make it work,” she said. “If the funding comes together, the bishop will want to visit with other business people and people in the neighborhood.”

“The timing is hinging on some verbal pledges that have not yet come to fruition. Until that happens, we can’t put out a timeline.”

She added in her email “safety and security are top priorities, as well as the ability to maintain the dignity of the Morning Glory clients. The move will not happen unless safety and security are properly addressed.”

Bishop Johnston said the proposed new Morning Glory location will offer greater opportunities for people to volunteer to help the homeless population.

“I look forward to inviting our neighbors to assist as volunteers and encourage them to consider this an opportunity to give back to their community and provide a much-needed service of kindness and compassion to the poorest population in the core of our city,” he said.

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