New location now open for cold weather homeless shelter in Johnson County

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LENEXA, Kan. -- On this cold winter night, the homeless in Johnson County now have a new place to go.

After a year-long battle with permitting problems and a federal lawsuit, a cold weather shelter is back up and running.

A row of warm and cozy cots line classroom spaces at Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church in Lenexa. For nearly a year, it's something Project 1020 founder Barb McEver wasn't sure would happen.

"It was stressful. Since the shelter closed in April, we spent summer and fall working on our policies and procedures and looking for a space," McEver said.

Project 1020 had operated a cold weather shelter in the winter months from Branches Church in Olathe.

But many nights, it was hitting maximum capacity and sometimes forced to turn the homeless away. So the nonprofit bought a building on Park Street in Olathe, which was blocked by permitting issues and neighbor complaints.

Then a church in Lenexa stepped up to help.

"We were in the hallway jumping up and down. We were really excited," McEver said.

But permitting issues threatened that space, too. A federal lawsuit was filed against Lenexa as a result, but then a settlement was reached with the city.

Project 1020 can now operate at the Unitarian Universalist Church the next three winters.

"It wasn't for these people here, I'd be sleeping outside. They give me shelter at night, food to eat at night and transportation to go look for jobs and stuff," Chuck Johnson said.

Johnson said after a debilitating stroke, and time in the hospital, he lost his job, then his apartment.

He walks miles a day now, looking for work. He'd love to find something in the restaurant industry, working in a kitchen. Having Project 1020's shelter back open gives him one less thing to think about.

"I don't have to worry about having a place to sleep at night. I can focus and concentrate on getting another job and get back on my feet again," Johnson said.

The city of Lenexa told FOX4, in part, "The city of Lenexa has always recognized the need for homeless services in Johnson County. We are also charged with a myriad of responsibilities to our entire community -- one of which is the duty to ensure that appropriate land use and zoning decisions are made."

The city now hopes to begin work on an ordinance that will address shelter regulations on a more permanent basis moving forward.

But as of now, for the next three winters, Project 1020 can operate from Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church  during winter months, nightly from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.

If you'd like to help, Project 1020 can always use donations of socks and bottled water, along with volunteers. You can learn more on their Facebook page or website.

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