Cold weather, fires reignite Kansas City’s homeless struggles, need for solutions

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Fires during Monday’s cold weather are exposing the reality of people living on the streets and struggling to stay warm.

A fire was spotted Monday night at a homeless camp near Interstate 70 underpass in downtown Kansas City as temperatures remained in 30s. Just week ago, a homeless camp fire was also reported Oct. 14 at a site near the Truman Sports Complex.

The city estimates there are currently around 3,000 homeless people living in Kansas City.

“There are probably three times the amount of people experiencing homeless than we have been able to capture at a particular point and time,” said Marqueia Watson, executive director at the Greater Kansas City Coalition to End Homelessness.

“Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, in the years 2022-2023, we could see up to a 40% increase over that number, so it is an alarming number.”

Last winter exposed the vulnerability, with two deaths among the homeless population. This year, city leaders said there’s a plan to protect people from the elements.

Last year, the Kansas City Convention Center was converted to a warming shelter.

This year, shelters and services will be available and ready during the cold months once temperatures hit 32 degrees or all shelters are full. Once all shelters are full, community centers will be used as overflow space.

For those who don’t want to go to a shelter, the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority will provide warming buses.

“Clearly they have looked back at what happened this last spring and winter, saw where we needed to improve and change perhaps the way we are addressing these issues,” Councilwoman Katheryn Shields said.

The bigger plan is to end area homeless by the year 2027.

The three-part plan includes converting vacant hotels into apartments. Another option is to build more than two dozen tiny palette homes.

Finally, the task force said funding could be provided to Amethyst Place to expand housing units for low-income families.

All of these are recommendations that will be up for discussion this week at City Hall.

“Today is Nov. 1, we all know what the weather is getting ready to do,” said GG Owens, land bank advisor.

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