Avenue of Life on track to eliminate homelessness in Wyandotte County

KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- The statistics are stunning. In one building, 80 organizations have come together to slash homelessness in the poorest county in Kansas.

Four years ago, Avenue of Life was just a dream. Today, it’s become a life-changing program that has communities around the country trying to replicate its model. And one by one, hopeless situations in Wyandotte County are changing.

Marlena Taylor and her small family fled Houston last summer after Hurricane Harvey made them homeless. Hundreds of miles away, in Kansas City, Kansas, they found an unlikely haven at Avenue of Life.

11-year-old Faith Taylor remembers the day they walked through the doors. "The first time I came here, they gave me food. They were helpful and found a jacket for me."

Within the same walls, Marlena's husband found employment resources and has finally landed a job.

"I thought there was no hope at first," said Peter Long, "but when I got here, a lot of doors opened up for me."

Food, diapers, computer training, clothing even childcare, all in a place Avenue of Life calls its Equipping Center, designed so those in need don't need to chase help all over town.

Marlena Taylor said, "being able to take health classes, go over financial issues, get employment resources is so helpful."

At Avenue of Life, they call it collective impact -- a model where city, school, non-profit and faith-based organizations pool their resources to resolve social issues.

And it’s working.

In the last three years, the homeless rate is down a staggering 40 percent in Wyandotte County. At-risk kids are thriving in schools here.

Dr. Evelyn Hill, the former chair of the KCK Board of Education, who now works for Avenue of Life, said that is unheard of.

"We've seen attendance increase. We've seen kids that were living in cars and in the woods now have somewhere to live. They have hope when there was no hope."

Entering the third year of the collaboration between Avenue of Life and the school district, the poorest county in Kansas is on track to eliminate all homelessness, potentially in just five years.

Avenue of Life is Executive Director Desiree Monize's brainchild. She has worked with at risk populations in the metro for more than a decade, but the collective impact model is the only one she has ever seen get these results.

"We should stay on goal to end homelessness by five years. In 2020, we should be doing prevention here in Wyandotte County."

Billy Shaw came to Avenue of Life four years ago. A single father with five small kids, he was homeless and nearly out of options.

"It’s kind of unbelievable, honestly, coming from nowhere to somewhere. Having my kids worry about where they are gonna sleep, to knowing where they are gonna go."

Now Shaw is mentoring others. He works full time at Avenue of Life, and he fully believes this system is the one that will end homelessness in his county, maybe for good.

Monize agrees, saying, "I believe it’s an achievable goal."

And so far, statistics and thousands of changed lives are proof that it is.

All together there are 35,000 volunteers who work with Avenue of Life. They can always use clothes, food and furniture for those they serve, but the greatest need is financial. They need money to cover things like emergency housing, vehicle repair and even money to help people with utilities and medical bills. If you would like to help, go to AvenueofLife.org.