By Kevin Collison
The Downtown Council’s efforts to help the homeless population got some good news this Thanksgiving week, tempering the collapse of its proposal to establish a temporary camp for emergency shelter this winter.
A fundraiser led by engineering firm Burns & McDonnell raised $105,000 in cash and in-kind contributions to build a new handicapped-accessible ramp and make other repairs to the organizations’ Downtown Community Services Center at 750 The Paseo.
“In these difficult times for fundraising Burns & McDonnell employee-owners really stepped up to the plate,” Sean O’Byrne, Downtown Council vice president, said in a statement.
“They not only took ownership of this project, but also helped pull together a wonderful group of big-hearted companies that made the repairs possible.”
The Community Services Center opened in 2008 to provide a central location for homeless services including meals and health care. NourishKC operates a kitchen and has served more than 1 million meals over the last decade, including nearly 150,000 last year.
Each year, the Downtown Council raises $50,000 to maintain the facility.
“The DCSC is the point of entry for homeless persons needing counselors, clothing, nutritious meals and housing referrals,” O’Byrne said in a statement.
In related news however, the Council’s proposal to address a looming “humanitarian crisis” for the homeless exposed to the elements this winter has fallen apart in the face of neighborhood opposition and apparent lackluster support from city and county officials.
Earlier this month, the organization of downtown business and property owners proposed using the former Chouteau Court public housing property northwest of Independence Avenue and The Paseo to establish a temporary, six-month homeless camp.
The proposal called for erecting 25 heated tents with bedding and support facilities in an orderly, supervised camp similar to one recently erected in Lawrence by local officials.
The location was suggested because it was within short walking distance of several homeless service organizations.
The Downtown Council also believed the vacant property was a good choice because it was not close to a densely populated area.
That assumption however, was quickly disputed by residents of nearby neighborhoods including Columbus Park, Pendleton Heights and Scarritt Renaissance who said they were blindsided by the proposal.
“This is a great idea and unfortunate location,” Adam Shieber, a former president of the Scarritt Renaissance neighborhood group, said in a Facebook post in response to a CityScene KC article.
“The constant, deliberate relocation of “unsightly” poverty from downtown core to Northeast needs a public conversation.”
Leslie Caplan, another former Scarritt association president, wrote in an email to CityScene and city officials “I can tell you that this this is a bad idea and that you need to find another place for these transients.
“Let’s be clear: these are not homeless people who can find support at any number of the shelters and be helped by social workers at agencies and with KCPD.
“These are transients who flock to KC because they know that services are abundant and nobody gets turned away…My suggestion is that you find a place for them in your midst—not ours.”
O’Byrne said the Downtown Council has dropped the tent camp idea and will support homeless organizations including the Coalition to End Homelessness, NourishKC, ReStart and Hope & Safe in their efforts to shelter the vulnerable population this winter.
“As a community organization ourself, we listen to the community and the community had great concerns about Chouteau Court,” O’Byrne said “We’ve hit the reset button and will follow the lead of other groups.
“We’re looking at best practices for service providers and hope we can get behind them and help fundraise. We do believe it’s an epic-scale problem to address before the weather turns.”
As for the Community Services Center, other organizations helping with repairs and the new ramp are BHC Rhodes, Copaken Brooks, Epic Concrete Construction, Flynn, ISW Industrial, KH Engineering Group, Kansas City Industrial Steel, Mark One Electrical Company, P1 Group and Rodriguez Mechanical Contractors.
“The Downtown Community Services Center is home to critical organizations serving the homeless and battling hunger in Kansas City,” Nathan Benjamin, department manager at Burns & McDonnell and Downtown Council member, said in a statement.
“It’s exciting to see so many companies from the community come together to make needed repairs to the facility and it’s an honor to be a part of the effort.”
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Re: Leslie Caplan’s statement, “Let’s be clear: these are not homeless people who can find support at any number of the shelters… these are transients who flock to KC because they know that services are abundant and nobody gets turned away.”
I’m embarrassingly unfamiliar with the details of KC’s homelessness problem, but is there any objective truth to this comment? Ostensibly it seems like blatant vilification of the homeless population as a means to justify a lack of compassion, à la the “bad hombres” argument.
As harsh as Caplan’s statement reads it is sadly the truth. There are a lot of services available for the truly homeless in Kansas City. However many of the homeless in the core downtown areas are of a criminal mindset. They will often vandalize, deface, and litter businesses and private residences (we’re not even going to mention the theft). Because of COVID it has become almost unbearable as a resident. It’s easy to want to look at the homeless through a more noble lens but it is simply not the reality. This camp idea was just another effort to export a significant and growing problem to another community. They are right to fight it.
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