With long waitlist, pandemic puts strain on homelessness services in KC’s suburbs

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LEE’S SUMMIT, Mo. — The ongoing pandemic is straining services in the suburbs that are designed to lift people out of homelessness.

For years Jennifer Wolfe had a toxic relationship with drugs and a man who became abusive.

“I knew I had to what I had to, to better my life,” Wolfe said. “It just progressed to where I was basically dead on the inside.”

When the relationship began to quickly spiral out of control, the 40-year-old turned to Hillcrest Transitional Housing in Lee’s Summit.

“They loved on me mentally, emotionally, spiritually, financially and supported me in all those areas because when I came here, I felt defeated,” she said.

“We’re not a shelter. You are literally going through a program here,” said Vanessa Hickman, the case manager on site.

The nonprofit partners with churches and place the “working homeless” in furnished apartments for 90 days.

“We have this strong community of people coming in and helping, giving their time, money and prayers and love,” Hickman said.

They set residents up with budget counselors and other positive influencers in hopes of changing their mindset. The goal is for the person to have saved enough money that, by the end of the program, they can afford a deposit and first month’s rent.

“We are a needs-only program, so they can only spend on what they need,” Hickman said. “It is very strict, but if you are willing to do it, you can be successful.”

The pandemic has limited the organization’s services. Hickman said they currently have a 2-3 month waiting list. The organization also took a hit in July when a fire destroyed four of their 16 units.

“The residents that come in here, I’ve had a nurse, a case manager, an accountant,” Hickman said. “People who are having trouble with their finances, losing their jobs, getting laid off. So it’s difficult for people.”

Wolfe knows the hardship and never wants to relive it. In August, the mom of two became a first-time home buyer, closing on a three-bedroom home in Independence.

“It was exhilarating, empowering,” she said. “I felt like I finally succeeded at something because I had been failing for so long.”

Wolfe offered the following advice to those struggling:

“I don’t care what it looks like on paper, the statistics, the roadblocks are, you can come out of that.”

Hillcrest, which also has locations in Independence, KCK and Overland Park, has zero tolerance for drugs and alcohol. There’s also a three-strike rule if residents violate probation.   

Demolition is scheduled this weekend on the units destroyed in the fire. If you would like to learn more about Hillcrest or interested in donating time or money, click here.

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