Homeless housing questions

By Mike Genet mike.genet@examiner.net
The Examiner

Independence city leaders say they were not informed that about 20 homeless people from Kansas City would be brought this week to a couple of Independence hotels for temporary housing. 

The homeless people have been relocated outside of Independence to other locations, officials learned late Wednesday, but the larger issue for them is lack of communication and the many questions that accompanied Tuesday’s initial hotel placements.

Mayor Eileen Weir and other council members said they had no prior knowledge of what ultimately became a short stay for some people who had been part of the homeless camps in Westport and in front of City Hall in Kansas City.

“We had no idea that this was occurring,” Weir said. “We were not contacted or consulted or informed.”

Hope Faith is the nonprofit working with the city of Kansas City to find temporary housing for those in the homeless camps, as that city was paying for up to 90 days for rooms to help people get back on their feet. 

“Bless their hearts, they were trying to coordinate housing,” Council Member Mike Steinmeyer said. “Nobody reached out to us.”

“Had they done so – Independence is a great community, compassionate – we’ll do what we can to serve neighboring cities, but let us help you.”

Weir, Steinmeyer and Council Member Dan Hobart each said they first learned of the temporary situation Tuesday from City Manager Zach Walker after he had been informed by Independence Police. Hobart said he took the message to mean things were under control and that the update was in case council members received calls from citizens – which for some happened many times over.

Hope Faith’s executive director, Jaysen Van Sickle, did not return a message seeking comment. In a social media post last Saturday asking for volunteer help and donations in the relocation effort, Van Sickle said his group was “blessed with the challenge to assist” and that it’s a “massive project.” Van Sickle said he estimated about 500 rooms would be needed, and at the time of the video they had secured about 200.

The Community Services League, which has done many emergency housing placements for homeless people, particularly during bad winter weather, was not part of the effort to help the Kansas City homeless, though it would be willing to assist.

“We’ll be happy to support these folks in any way that helps them move toward achieving permanent housing,” said Doug Cowan, CSL’s president/CEO. 

When CSL used vouchers from federal funds to house those in need during the cold weather weeks, the group paid for 116 nights worth of hotel/motel rooms, Cowan said – all but one in Independence.

Independence has an ordinance for 90-day hotel stays unless it’s an extended-stay facility. Beyond that, Weir and Steinmeyer, the city would’ve had questions about what services would be provided for people, and if they had been COVID-vaccinated or tested.

“It’s a triage situation,” Weir said. “We’ve got folks in Independence that need shelter that we struggle to accommodate, much less bringing additional people in.”

Independence Police and community partners have for a couple years made regular outreach efforts to homeless people in the city, and Steinmeyer said the city will spend several thousand unbudgeted dollars in environmental cleanup from homeless camps.

“There’s no one answer to it,” he said. “It’s complicated.”