Mayor Quinton Lucas and the Kansas City Houseless Task Force introduced a five-year plan during Kansas City Council’s business session last week that calls on a multi-step strategy to eliminate homelessness in the city by 2027.

Zero KC provides an outline of policies and priorities the city will focus on to create long-term solutions for homelessness. The plan was created by the city’s Houseless Task Force, the greater Kansas City Coalition to End Homelessness, and the Housing and Community Development Department. 

The program is multi-pronged and uses temporary and long-term housing strategies previously explored by city councils such as low barrier emergency shelters and the creation of affordable housing, along with new city services that utilize outreach and employment to help fight homelessness. All policies included in the plan will first have to be approved by the city council before being carried out.

Zero KC also brings the multiple organizations that are working in different capacities to address the needs of the houseless together to work in collaboration with each other in a unified approach.

Rayana Parks-Shaw, fifth district councilwoman and chair of the Houseless Taskforce, said the strategic plan will provide better support and organization for nonprofit organizations working individually.

“Many organizations are doing great work by themselves, but because they have limited resources and they continue to work in those silos they don’t necessarily get the overall support that they need,” Parks-Shaw said. “What Zero KC, the strategic plan, will do for us is allow those organizations to stop working in silos. Together we will see the success that we haven’t seen before because they’ve all been working individually.”

One of the top priorities of the plan is to create temporary low-barrier emergency shelters for anyone in need. Low barrier shelters are less restrictive shelters that are open to entry for almost anyone with limited preconditions.  Many shelters require residents to follow sober living standards or to participate in rehabilitation programs. Instead of treating the person’s issues first, the city’s plan focuses on a housing first approach — get the individual housed first then begin to work on the problems that have led to their houselessness. 

According to Henges the low barrier shelters will be available to anyone and will provide a direct point of contact to address those experiencing chronic homelessness. 

“When we have a low barrier emergency shelter, we don’t have to scramble and that’s what we need we’re desperate for it,” Henges said. “For folks who are sleeping outside, there’s a reason they’re there because the current system wasn’t working so they created their own, which is why we need a low barrier. There’s no excuse to not have it.”

Another priority in the plan is to increase affordable housing for extremely low-income individuals. According to Mayor Lucas, the city’s Housing Trust Fund could be utilized to create hundreds of affordable houses but that would rely on the passage of a bond initiative that would authorize the city to issue $50 million in bonds toward the city’s Housing Trust Fund. That initiative is on the Nov. 8 ballot for a vote by the public. 

Along with the Zero KC Plan, the city is investing $300,000 in a new pilot program, Clean Up KC, designed to employ people experiencing homelessness through the city’s Public Works Department. The department will pay workers, employed by nonprofit organizations, $15 an hour for neighborhood clean-up and winter weather snow removal efforts.  The program currently employs 15 people but if it’s successful the city hopes to expand the program. As part of the program, individuals also receive wrap-around health services and job skill guidance to help them find long-term employment. 

These priority projects are all part of Zero KC:

  • Increase street outreach and develop repeatable extreme weather plans that can be easily implemented when conditions require them.
  • Continue to provide resources to tenants facing eviction through the city’s Tenants Right to Council law. A law that provides free legal counsel to anyone at risk of homelessness due to eviction. 
  • Engage neighborhoods and businesses and communities around strategies in their area.
  • Enact strategies to create a safer environment for individuals living in homeless encampments. This strategy is complicated by a Missouri law that will go into effect in January that makes sleeping on state-owned land a misdemeanor.  According to Mayor Lucas, the state law is “cruel and does not address long-term solutions.” Lucas said the law will not impact the city’s current effort to address homelessness in the metro. “The city of Kansas City will continue to address our houselessness outreach in the exact same ways. That is through care, through a hand up, rather than just being forceful as the state law would suggest,” Lucas added. 
  • Better coordinate federal funding with local and state homeless prevention initiatives.

City officials also provided a series of community listening sessions for residents to learn more about the plan. There will be a session on September 28th, Mohart Auditorium, 5 – 7 p.m. 3200 Wayne Ave, Kansas City, MO 64109. You can also attend via Zoom.

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Jacob Martin

Jacob Martin covered news that focuses on housing and equality issues in Kansas City. Prior to joining our team, he worked as a general assignments reporter with KCUR in Kansas City. A Louisville, Kentucky...