Wagswoofs – Starting in late December, individuals who have nowhere else to seek refuge from the cold will be provided with blankets, a warm meal, comfortable sleeping mats, and a sense of privacy. This initiative will be implemented through the setup of indoor tents near Sixth Street and State Avenue in Kansas City, Kansas.
The cold-weather shelter, organized by Cross-Lines Community Outreach, offers a safe haven for individuals in Wyandotte County who are experiencing homelessness on nights when the temperature falls below 25 degrees.
According to service providers, the county is currently lacking a permanent emergency shelter that offers overnight accommodations and essential services like showers, hot meals, and referrals for healthcare and other necessities.
Scott Michael Cady has been living under a bridge in Wyandotte County for the past four years. Although he briefly stayed at a men’s shelter in Missouri, he left the next morning on his bicycle after a disagreement with a staff member.
He also had no luck with other shelters in Missouri.
Cady expressed her frustration, saying, “I attempted to leave, but unfortunately, all the available shelters were already occupied. As a result, I had no choice but to return to Wyandotte. It’s disheartening to see that the demand for shelter exceeds the available resources, and the people in need continue to face hardships.”
The Kansas City area faces challenges in establishing a comprehensive network of shelters that adequately meet the needs of individuals seeking temporary refuge or stability to secure long-term housing.
Finding a warm place to bed down becomes a matter of survival, especially during winter freezes. The shortfall in shelter already poses enough difficulty in good weather, but when the temperatures drop, the stakes skyrocket.
In Wyandotte County, the issue of providing shelters for the winter is particularly troublesome. Various aid groups are working tirelessly to assemble these shelters and address the pressing need.
According to Rob Santel, the director of programs for Cross-Lines Community Outreach, the cold weather shelter is a collaborative community project. Providers who work towards addressing homelessness actively come together and support this initiative.
Cross-Lines, in collaboration with the Wyandot Center for Community Behavioral Healthcare, the Unified Government’s health department, and Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools, is spearheading the initiative to establish a cold-weather shelter at 550 State Ave.
A warming shelter will soon be available in a low-slung brick building, operating from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. and providing accommodation for up to 40 individuals. This initiative is part of a larger regional effort to ensure that warming shelters are available on the coldest nights.
However, these centers are only open during certain seasons. Once the weather becomes warmer, these shelters close their doors, leaving those who sought refuge there to either return to the streets or seek help elsewhere.
Calls for permanent emergency shelter in Wyandotte County
Transitional programming offers support to unhoused individuals in the area, with the goal of helping them secure long-term housing. However, these programs often have requirements such as sobriety and participation in addiction recovery, job training, and life skills classes, which may not be suitable for individuals who are primarily seeking shelter from the elements.
According to Santel, there are several transitional houses that have been established, but none of these programs have the ability to accommodate emergency situations. This emphasizes the crucial role of the cold weather response, ensuring that individuals have a place to seek shelter on the coldest nights.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, both Shalom House, a men’s transitional shelter, and Bridge of Hope Community Church provided emergency beds in Wyandotte County. However, due to the rapid spread of the virus, they were forced to temporarily close their doors. Although they have since reopened, neither organization has been able to resume their emergency shelter services.
Other transitional housing service providers in the area provide emergency shelter, but their assistance is limited to specific communities. For example, the Della Gill – Joyce H. Williams Center is dedicated to supporting individuals facing domestic violence. Meanwhile, Sue’s Safe Haven focuses on providing shelter for families and children.
Lion House KC, a service provided by Our Spot KC, provides transitional housing and short-term rental assistance to LGBTQ+ individuals. They also offer two emergency beds to address the higher rates of homelessness and barriers to housing services experienced by this community.
According to James Moran, a spokesperson for Our Spot KC, the lack of a permanent emergency shelter in Wyandotte County poses a challenge in accurately assessing the number of unhoused individuals in the area.
According to the Greater Kansas City Coalition to End Homelessness, their 2022 point-in-time count revealed that there were 711 individuals without shelter in the Kansas City area. In Wyandotte County alone, there were 201 people identified as being unsheltered during the same year.
According to Moran, the high numbers in Jackson County can be attributed to the large number of facilities that surveyors have access to.
“In Wyandotte County, the approach is quite different. The survey relies heavily on finding individuals directly on the streets. This method reflects the county’s dedication and investment in outreach efforts, as well as the limited availability of facilities.”
The survey has faced criticism from service providers who question its reliability. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the overseeing body, acknowledges the challenge of tracking a transient population.
According to an email from Brian Handshy, a regional spokesperson for HUD, the organization acknowledges the challenges that come with locating and conducting interviews with individuals in remote or hard-to-reach areas.
According to Moran, the inaccuracies in the homeless count have significant implications, as these numbers are used to determine the allocation of federal funding.
According to him, the decrease in outreach and facilities in Wyandotte County has led to lower numbers on the survey.
Two states, two stories
The increasing homelessness in the Kansas City area is exacerbating the issue of shelters being concentrated on the Missouri side, while there is a shortage in Wyandotte County. This disparity in shelter availability is leaving many people in the area without access to the help they desperately need.
According to Moran, individuals with criminal records may face barriers when seeking refuge across state borders.
According to the Prison Policy Initiative, people who have experienced incarceration are almost 10 times more likely to face homelessness compared to the general public. In addition, individuals with arrest warrants or probation or parole restrictions may often be reluctant to travel across state lines.
The current supply of shelter is not keeping up with the increasing demand.
In Wyandotte County, the number of people without shelter increased from 68 to 120 individuals between 2021 and 2022, as reported by the point-in-time count. Similarly, in Jackson County, the count rose from 408 to 711 during the same period.
The population has increased, but there hasn’t been a corresponding increase in the number of emergency shelter beds available.
According to Santel, a representative from Cross-Lines Community Outreach, we have witnessed a decrease of 500 beds over the past five years.
The shortage of beds presents a challenging situation for individuals without homes, limiting their options and exacerbating their difficulties.
Moran explained that for unhoused individuals who are living on the streets and not availing emergency shelter, it is crucial to stay close to their available resources. They need to be near places where they can access food, shower facilities, and healthcare. Being located far away from the only shelter option can create transportation difficulties for them.
Edward King, a resident of Wyandotte County for six years, has chosen to remain in his community despite exploring resources in Missouri. He appreciates the accessibility of essential provisions such as clothing, food, and medication for his chronic pain at the Wyandot Center for Community Behavioral Healthcare in Kansas City, Kansas.
“I choose to stay in Kansas because my birth certificate is here,” he stated. “I feel a strong connection to this place, it’s where I am rooted.”
Nick, a man who prefers not to disclose his last name, shared his experience of being homeless in Wyandotte County. He attempted to seek shelter at a men’s facility in Missouri but found the nine-month program too inflexible for his work commitments. Consequently, he made the decision to return to Kansas City, Kansas.
According to him, you can find a meal here every day of the week. While there are many places where you can get food, he believes that Wyandotte County needs a permanent shelter.
Zero KC Cold Weather Strategy
Level 1: Open now until March 1, regardless of the temperature.
- Hope Faith, 705 Virginia Ave, Kansas City, Missouri
- True Light, 712 E 31st Street Kansas City, Missouri
- Unity Southeast, 3421 E Meyer Blvd, Kansas City, Missouri
- Hope City, 5101 E 24th St, Kansas City, Missouri
Level 2: Open from now until April 1 if the temperature is 32 degrees or below, 25 degrees with windchill, or 32 degrees with windchill and precipitation.
- Shelter KC for men, 1520 Cherry Street, Kansas City, Missouri
- City Union Mission men’s shelter, 1108 E. 10th Street Kansas City, Missouri
- City Union Mission women’s shelter, 1310 Wabash Avenue Kansas City, Missouri
Level 3: This level is currently open until April 1 if the temperature drops to 25 degrees or below. It will also be in effect if the temperature feels like 15 degrees or below due to windchill. Additionally, if there is precipitation and the temperature feels like 25 degrees or below due to windchill, this level will also be in effect.
- Heartland, referral-based. Access points at Hope Faith and Hope City
- Shelter KC for women, 2611 E. 11th Street Kansas City, Missouri
- Cross-lines, 550 State Ave., Kansas City, Kansas
If the temperature drops to 0 degrees or below, every shelter will make every effort to accommodate anyone who is left out in the cold.