City looking for new group to run Bartle Hall warming center after security concerns

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Last week, Mayor Quinton Lucas and City Manager Brian Platt opened Bartle Hall as a warming center for the city’s homeless population, but now Platt says they’re looking for a new group to run the operation.

On Thursday, the city council raised questions about security, food, liability and the overall cost of housing people at Bartle Hall.

Platt said the idea to move the warming center from the Garrison Community Center to Bartle Hall was made quickly because people were being left out in the cold.

“We’re doing what we can and doing it on the fly at this point to make sure that no one is ever left outside in the cold,” Platt told councilmembers.

That quick response and lack of planning has led to numerous issues, according to several council members.

“In an effort to respond urgently, there were many things that were missed,” said Councilwoman Ryana Parks-Shaw, who also praised the mayor and city manager for their intentions.

Parks-Shaw said she went to the warming center Saturday and discovered there was no plan in place to feed people, so she funded meals out of her own pocket to the tune of $2,300, for which she will be reimbursed.

“I personally paid, picked up food and delivered food Saturday morning, Saturday night, Sunday morning, Sunday night, Monday morning,” she said.

The biggest concerns are security and who is in charge of running the warming center. ReStart KC recently pulled out of the project over security concerns.

Councilwoman Kathryn Shields said that Bartle Hall is becoming overcrowded with people coming in from other jurisdictions and with people not taking advantage of existing homeless services.

“One of the reasons we may see an increasing number of people, we have existing homeless shelters and some of those shelters have space, particularly for single men; however, they have requirements that ensure the safety of the people who come into those centers,” she said. “It appears at least, from what I have been told, that those types of protocols and safety measures were not put in place for Bartle Hall.”

Councilwoman Heather Hall also said that there have been fights outside the center and she said she’s going to request surveillance video.

“I want to see all the videos of all of the things that have happened since you’ve opened because I know there have been altercations,” she said. “I know there have been arguments. There have been fights. There have been bad things that have happened because we were not prepared nor are we equipped to handle those kinds of things.”

Hall also said that the city was opening itself up to liability.

“We are making a lot of mistakes, and liability is just eventual. It’s going to happen. Somebody is going to sue us,” she said.

Platt made assurances to the council that there would be security screenings Thursday night. The security would be provided by an existing security company that contracts with the city to protect the outside of the building.

“To use the fake premise that we’re using the security that monitors the outside of the building and they’re invisible inside of the building is saying that everybody on this council has the IQ of one if you think we’re going to believe that,” Councilman Brandon Ellington said.

Platt also said that the city is actively working to partner with existing agencies that provide services to unhoused individuals, but it’s unclear who will take over at this point in time.

“We’re still having discussions with some of the organizers in the space. We have not finalized who that group is going to be but we’re going to move quickly on this,” Platt said.

The preliminary price tag for keeping the warming center open for two months is nearly $500,000. It’s a price that city councilmembers said isn’t in the budget.

Platt said those numbers are a worst-case scenario, and he doesn’t think that the overall bill will be nearly that high.

“It’s been about week since we made this decision, and we’re still trying to work through all those components,” he said. “The big priority though was just to make sure we had a place for people to go that was warm. But we don’t have half a million dollars right now in the bank, so we have to work quickly to figure out what we’re going to do.”

The plan right now is for Bartle Hall to remain open as a warming center through March 31. The council is expecting an update on the project next week.     

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