Kansas City woman living in dangerous conditions but offers of help from city, landlord go unanswered

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A Kansas City woman said she is living in dangerous conditions but the problem isn’t easily solved.

FOX4 looked into how several issues are creating complex problems.

Deborah Gillespie is living in less than ideal conditions. She has for years. Right now, she doesn’t have a working toilet and said there are cockroaches in her fridge.

The Kansas City Health Department said part of the issue falls on the landlord. They have also referred Gillespie to the state of Missouri for a possible mental health evaluation.

One woman said Gillespie is falling through the cracks.

Boxes throughout Gillespie’s home hold most of her belongings. She’s lived in the house on East 67th Terrace for 15 years. There is visible water damage on the ceiling, and structural issues with the house.

Gillespie said for more than a decade her home hasn’t had proper maintenance. However, what is to blame for it is unclear.

Her story was featured in the PBS Kansas City documentary “The Silent Pandemic.” That’s where Jennifer Klepak saw what Gillespie is going through.

“I thought if I had to live that way I would want someone to help me,” Klepak said.

She reached out to FOX4 and we looked into it. In 2019, the Kansas City Health Department’s Healthy Homes program inspected the house. They found rats, roaches, and garbage.

“It used to be so bad I would have to get them up in the vacuum cleaner and get them up that way. No one should have roaches in their coffee maker,” Gillespie said.

“I only talked to Healthy Homes for her once, and I can’t get them to answer the phone again,” Klepak said.

FOX4 spoke with the health department who said the rats were taken care of. After their discovery, the department worked with Gillespie’s landlord to get the vermin out. However, they say the home couldn’t be properly inspected due to a “major hoarding problem.” They said they referred her to the state for mental health care, but Gillespie said she never heard from anyone.

“They did? What does the state have for me? I want to know,” Gillespie said.

Gillespie said she doesn’t have a working shower or toilet, and hasn’t for over a year. She says her landlord hasn’t helped get the repairs done.

“The last time I asked him to fix the tub he told me to call a plumber,” Gillespie said.

FOX4 reached out to Gillespie’s landlord who says due to her mental health state, he cannot resolve the issues with the house properly. Klepak said that’s not good enough.

“Come live here for a night. Come in here. Spend the entire night. See what she has to go through,” Klepak said.

The Kansas City Health Department said they did not circle back to see if Gillespie got the recommended care they referred her to. Klepak says it’s a cycle in Gillespie’s life that needs to be broken.

“I just want to help her. No one will help her,” Klepak said.

When FOX4 spoke with Gillespie’s landlord, he committed to coming out and having her toilet fixed. We will follow up to make sure it’s taken care of.

There are still a lot of questions about what the next step for Gillespie is. Could it be mental health care, maintenance to the home, or maybe something else? FOX4 will continue to look at how we can help and will update when we can.

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