Wyandotte County pulls plug on only emergency cold shelter, service providers say

Courtesy of the Greater Kansas City Coalition to End Homelessness

Local service providers preparing to open an emergency shelter in Kansas City, Kansas, say the Unified Government will not allow them to open heading into the coldest days of the winter.

That leaves Wyandotte County without any overnight cold weather shelters, which the service providers fear could have fatal consequences as temperatures are expected to drop to zero degrees.

KCK Mayor Tyrone Garner had a county administrator notify service providers of the decision to no longer open a shelter at the former Jack Reardon Center at 5th and State Avenue during a meeting on Tuesday morning, according to Rachel Russell, one of the project leads and director of community engagement for Cross-Lines Community Outreach.

“If we do not open this extreme weather project, we will continue to overwhelm our health systems and hospital beds,” Russell told The Star. “We will see more cold weather injuries than we’ve seen, and someone could lose their life over not having a place to sleep on the coldest nights of this winter in Wyandotte County.”

Cross-Lines executive director Susila Jones sent a letter to Mayor Garner and county board of commissioners obtained by The Star, requesting at least a two week trial period at the former Reardon Center to accommodate unhoused individuals in the cold coming days. The letter stated it is too late to change sites before the severely cold weather rolls in.

“The collective of agencies working on this year’s Extreme Weather Project has worked tirelessly to have the building formerly known as the Reardon Center set-up and ready to go so that we can provide shelter this week as the temperature will dip to dangerous lows,” the letter read. “As of [Tuesday], we have been told that the Reardon Center is no longer an option even though we have that building fully cleaned and set-up.”

Garner wrote in a statement that his goal is to address homelessness in the long term in KCK. He did not respond to specific questions about the decision to not move forward with the former Reardon Center site.

“Let me be clear, I am totally committed to finding long term solutions, collaboratively, with all interested stakeholders to address the issues of poverty and homelessness within our community,” Garner said in a statement. “This is something that cannot be done without thoughtful consideration as to the long-term implications, both positive and negative, as it relates to the goal of making Wyandotte County a safe and great place to live, work and raise a family.”

The emergency cold weather shelter plan was part of a partnership effort between local service providers led by Cross-Lines and the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas. The partnership aimed to provide shelter to individuals living on the street for nights when temperatures drop below 25 degrees.

With help from the Unified Government, the group of service providers operated a similar shelter last winter at La Fe en Jesucristo Church, and local church Bridge of Hope had done so in the five years prior to that.

The group began meeting earlier this summer with Unified Government officials to make the plan for this winter. Russell said that Cross-Lines and the other providers researched potential sites, and that the county administrator selected the Reardon Center to be the shelter site three weeks ago at the start of December.

Since then, Cross-Lines staff have been preparing the center to become a shelter, cleaning, training staff and getting everything in order to accommodate up to 40 people.

“We are ready,” Russell said. “The facility is literally ready. We just need an opportunity to show the community that this works.”

Though Wyandotte County has 17 warming centers open during the daytime, the only overnight homeless shelter in Wyandotte County is a domestic violence shelter that has specific intake requirements.

“I hope that the current location remains the location and that it opens this weekend at the very least,” Dustin Hare with WyCo Mutual Aid said. “Beyond that, it would be easiest for it to remain the location throughout the remainder of this winter, but if the mayor and commission want to come together to find another solution, fine by me. We just need something.”

Prior to this week, Russell said the partnership between Cross-Lines and the Unified Government had been productive and encouraging.

“All the other people have been nothing but supportive and helpful to get this going,” she said. “This is on Mayor Garner. We can’t point fingers on anyone else.”