KANSAS CITY, MO – The Kansas City houseless population could be approaching Great Depression levels due to shelters not being able to take in as many people during the pandemic.
The Downtown Council of Kansas City proposed a temporary camp near the Paseo for those in need of shelter. Neighborhood opposition forced the council to step back from the proposition, but they are hoping to find another location for the camp.
“The shelters that would normally do such a great job this year, the overnight shelters, because of Covid are taking in about a third of what they normally do,” Sean O’Byrne, vice president of business development for the Downtown Council of Kansas City told NPR in Kansas City.
The houseless crisis is “greater than what we’ve seen in years past,” according to O’Byrne.
This is partly due to shelter restrictions put in place because of the pandemic, but also because some are choosing not to go to the shelters due to fear of Covid-19.
With other resources like restaurants and public libraries also restricting capacity, there are limited options for basic services like public restrooms.
“We need to help out these folks to give them a dignified alternative to what’s happening out there on the streets,” said O’Byrne.
With the help of the city and Parks and Recreation, the council put out 30 portable toilets and hand washing stations throughout the Greater Downtown area of Kansas City.
The council is concerned about the winter months, as they are receiving more calls than ever about people looking for basic services.
The combination of at-capacity hospitals and houseless individuals entering freezing temperatures could put lives at risk and more stress on healthcare workers.
“When you couple the trends that are happening as far as the hospitals with Covid-19 and with the Thanksgiving surge and perhaps a post-holiday surge and the stresses that that’s putting on to the emergency service providers and the emergency rooms, think about how we’re going to couple that with people that are getting pneumonia or frost bite, or any kind of number of problems that happen on the streets,” said O’Byrne.
O’Byrne suggests using taxpayer dollars to stop the problem before it starts.
“And it could be a real stress on our healthcare network but also… a lot of taxpayer dollars go into healthcare. Well, perhaps we could use some of that on the front end to start thinking about how we could mitigate this before it becomes a problem and again provide a humane and dignified alternative to seeing people sleeping on the side of the road,” he said.
The council is looking for long term solutions, rather than just moving houseless individuals from one location to another on the streets. O’Byrne suggests utilizing hotel rooms, vacant schools or available housing.
For more information about the houseless crisis, visit the Greater Kansas City Coalition to End Homelessness’s website.