Some Independence leaders have started discussions about a regular facility to assist the city's homeless population during extreme temperature days, though no immediate remedy exists like last year.
The previous winter, the city partnered with the Community Services League to temporarily house people who had been at a warming or cooling center and had no home to return to, as well as some homeless people police discovered around the city.
Those people stayed at the Great Western Motel at U.S. 24 and Missouri 291. The city's cost for the 2018-19 fiscal year: $2,000, from the Parks, Recreation & Tourism Department budget, Director Eric Urfer said, as emergency management falls under that department's budget.
That option no longer exists, though, after the city shuttered the motel a couple months ago for health code violations.
Sarah Wimberley, pastor at Northern Boulevard United Methodist Church, said she didn't lament that particular loss, given the motel's conditions, but wondered at the time what the alternative would be. Her church sees about three or four homeless people a week seeking help, and undoubtedly a good portion of the dozens of families visiting the church's weekly food pantry are at least housing insecure, if not homeless.
“For every one we do know, there's others we don't know,” Wimberley said. “Whose job is it to worry about the homeless people, to make sure they have some place to go? I'm not pointing fingers, but nobody's quite sure.
“It's a whole spider web of issues, and I don't know how we (as churches) can do it all.”
The Salvation Army shelters take in families, but not individuals, and the Red Cross can assist such an overnight shelter but not fully operate one. The Greater Kansas City Coalition to End Homelessness administers grants from the Department of Housing and Urban Development for homelessness assistance, including long-term solutions, but such efforts still don’t reach all in need.
After some outreach efforts last year, police estimate there to be at least 40 homeless camps around the city. Tim Allison, president of Independence Ministerial Alliance, and Dante Gliniecki, Independence's emergency management director, both used the word “crisis” when they opened homeless discussion during a Ministerial Alliance meeting last week, adding that it must be a collaborative effort.
“What can we do all working together – not just one person, one group, one government entity,” Allison said.
Gliniecki and volunteer Dawn Miller have started to gauge area churches about the possibility of playing some role in an extreme weather shelter program, and they've also researched what goods and manpower would be necessary. Wimberley said such a program bears similarities to the Room at the Inn effort in Columbia, run by a non-profit organization and rotating at several area churches during the cold months. CSL has said it could help pay for off-duty security at such a shelter.
Some say the Unity Center – the former Alton Elementary school building next to the cosmetology school on 23rd Street – could fill the role of an overnight facility. The Team Jesus ministry does aid the homeless in several ways based from that building, but it does not yet have the necessary accommodations and city zoning for overnight housing.
Dennis Cato, president of Latter Day Saints’ Stake in Independence, said they hope to reach that point with the building, but right now there's no pending permit with the city.
While discussions on extreme-weather housing continue, Urfer said that with no other immediate solution, a city warming center such as the Sermon Community Center could be kept open all night.
“We wouldn't just kick them out (after regular hours),” he said.