Downtown Council Hopes to Open Homeless Camp Before Winter

This homeless man living outdoors near the River Market was caught in the snow and cold that hit Kansas City in late October. (Photo from Downtown Council)

By Kevin Collison

With the homeless population swollen by the Covid-19 pandemic, the Downtown Council is looking to Lawrence for an idea to help shelter vulnerable people living outdoors before  winter arrives.

The organization of downtown business and property owners is seeking help from the city and Jackson County to fund a proposal that would establish a tent camp on the site of the former Chouteau Court housing project northwest of Independence Avenue and The Paseo.

Sean O’Byrne, Downtown Council vice president, said the snowfall coupled with sub-freezing temperatures that hit Kansas City in late October were an alarm bell.

“We’re seeing a large uptick with the homeless downtown and shelters are only able to take in one-third of what they did (before Covid),” he said.

“The police department is doing the best they can, but quality of life issues don’t qualify for jail. The homeless have nowhere to go. We’re dealing with mental illness, drinking and doing drugs.

“Every embankment you see has encampments. It’s a perfect storm for a humanitarian crisis.”

The City of Lawrence recently opened a 20-tent homeless camp in Woody Park.

O’Byrne estimated several hundred people are living outdoors in makeshift camps in and around downtown and other parts of the city.

He and Jared Campbell, downtown resident liaison for the Downtown Council, want to establish a well-organized, homeless camp similar to one recently opened by Lawrence and Douglas County at Woody Park near the Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health center.

The Lawrence facility includes 20 heated tents for sleeping, a large tent for serving meals, shower facilities and portable toilets. The City Council there approved a six-month permit for the homeless tent complex, enough time to get through the cold weather months.

At a briefing to the Downtown Council board Thursday, Campbell said a similar 180-day time frame is envision for the proposed Kansas City facility.

“It would be a place where people can be safe, have the resources they need and get through this winter and pandemic,” Campbell said.

The Downtown Council is suggesting the vacant site of the former Chouteau Courts housing development would be a good location for an organized homeless camp similar to the one in Lawrence.

The former Chouteau Court site is being recommended because it’s close to downtown and not located near a dense residential area. The property is owned by the Kansas City Housing Authority.

It’s also a short walk to service agencies including the City Mission; ReStart; Hope Faith Ministries, which provides meals, showers and counseling; and the Downtown Community Services Center where NourishKC, Street Medicine KC and the KC CARE Clinic are located.

Campbell and O’Byrne said city officials, including City Councilman Eric Bunch, who’s district includes downtown, and A.J. Herrman, director of policy for the city, have been briefed about the proposal.

The city officials acknowledged the looming issue of protecting the homeless this winter, but so far, have been noncommittal to the Downtown Council concept.

The next step will be to approach Jackson County and County Administrator Troy Schulte about seeking CARES Act funding. The federal Covid relief program, which also is intended to help the homeless during the pandemic, is administered by the county.

The Chouteau Court property, shown with red pin, is close to homeless service providers and relatively isolated from the neighborhood. (Map by Google)

Campbell estimated it would cost roughly $200,000 to set up an initial camp with 25, 10-foot by 10-foot tents elevated by pallets, sleeping cots, a lock box for personal belongings, a trailer for hand-washing and toilets, fencing and 24/7 staffing.

While the Downtown Council is spearheading the proposal, it would prefer not to operate the facility. If successful in lining up financial help and obtaining approvals for the camp, backers would like to have it operational before December.

At the meeting, board member Richard Martin, an attorney at J.E. Dunn Construction, suggested corporate donations also should be sought.

“We need to do this within two- to three weeks, before the end of November,” he said.

O’Byrne said it was vital to move forward while the weather is still relatively mild.

“If we don’t move on this soon, we’ll have a lot of people in extremely bad shape with no shelter other than a tarp,” he said.

Snow-covered makeshift homeless camp near River Market. (Photo from Downtown Council)
Another view of the homeless camp established by the city at Woody Park in Lawrence.

Don’t miss any downtown news, sign up for our weekly CityScene KC email review here.


  1. Thank you for this article, Kevin. It’s probably going to be a tough winter for so many, especially the homeless and the unemployed.
    I will call my council members to encourage financial support for the proposal.

  2. Uh..NO.Why can’t thst CARES ACT money our city within jackson county recieved specifically granted to use to get homeless into thier own homes to cure the problem of vunerable homeless not having homes to
    Quarantine in and other CARES act and funding granted right before the quarantine- that i believe was all granted instead by our city to city councils friends they and the mayor sit on board of for example LINK , who advertises placement but does nothing but take information on a form and sends chronically homeless and disabled clients who are to get top of list federal preference for permanant home placement away with hops when they never hear from them the 89 cases i personally know of .Why cant that money be used? Or use that $200,000 to rapudly rehouse those 25 homeless? That woyld be a thousand dollars per family or single that could pay a depisit and first months rent on many many units in northeast.That and then use some of the already available rapid rehousing funds that agencys have already across the area ? Why on earth would any thing like this even be entertained that would further enable the demeaning situations the homeless already are enduring?This is truley getting ridiculous how much money and time is wasted in manhours of workers discussing and considering nonsensible degrading things like this instead of taking action and placing these people in housing .The city needs to stop jackin around and jackin with the homeless funding money and help cure this homeless problem like all of these other cities across the country already have.Drop the b.s.concerning yourselves with statues, street names, artists, 14.00 an hour raises , internet service ,murals and all this other agendas yall push and stop the lip service on our real issues that affect all people in our city that were your claimed priorities when you were running for your seats and start showing some action to solve the problems weve BEEN having and put everything youve instead been focusing in this year to the bottom of the stack to wait thier turn .Soany hundreds of other cities have been getting it done the past year and a half.Stop jackin around and get to work on our REAL priorities.What the heck are you city officials even thinking?

  3. Will contact Richard Martin, to Dunn, to see what service needs The (commercial) Builders’ Association can help with.

    Kevin, your media outlet is outstanding – happy early holidays.
    Don Greenwell

  4. Kevin–Excellent reporting, as usual, on an under the radar, but important, subject. I hope the issue does not get bogged down on City vrs County funding. All local budgets are severely strained, but the need really should be addressed. As mentor to a recently released inmate who has for now essentially no funds, no job, and certainly no place to call home at night, I have been made aware of the problem on an intimate scale. For any number of reasons, our family is not in position to take this man into our home, so I leave him in a city park, a vacant building, or some other nondescript location, until he can find a job. The cold weather now at hand is a real challenge. A temporary “camp tent” home through these winter months would mean the world.

  5. Plunking down a tent city to serve the homeless in the middle of the largest concentration of low income public housing developments in the City (Guinotte, Riverview, Wayne Minor) is completely antithetical to the mission, hard work and successes of the HAKC to reduce adverse impacts on their residents that result from high concentrations of low income residents in small geographic areas.

    Further, it flies in the face of the principles of Environmental Justice when adverse uses are foisted upon poor working families. Because let’s face it – if a tent city were the highest and best use of vacant property, the members of the Downtown Council would be fighting amongst themselves to see which of them would win the tent city prize.

  6. It is criminal to maltreat persons because of who you think is ‘less-than”. This homeless problem is created by those who have an impression of entitlement. God will repay. He is the “Great Equalizer”.

Comments are closed.