KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Not everyone knows what it’s like to be homeless, but with inflation putting a strain on budgets everywhere, more people are just one unexpected bill away from losing their homes.
For Carlos Penn and Rob Purdy, this past year has been filled with tribulations and uncertainty as both are houseless and living at Shelter KC.
A car accident left Penn injured which led to him losing his job. Shortly after, he also lost his home and car.
“Well, I slept on a local bus stop at the time,” Penn said. “It is a little hard to deal with when you’re going through those things.”
Purdy said his situation spiraled out of control after making one bad financial decision.
“It caused me to lose my apartment, then several months later, I lost my car,” Purdy said. “Finally, in January of this year, I lost my job.”
Every year the Greater Kansas City Coalition to End Homelessness (GKCCEH) conducts a point-in-time count, essentially a census of how many people are experiencing homelessness in Jackson County.
Last year, 1,575 people were estimated by the coalition to be living without a home, and this year, the houseless population is believed to be more than 1,700, though the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has yet to verify the coalition’s data.
“We hear stories of what folks have been experiencing, and it’s just really difficult to be able to find placements for people,” said Kora Wilkes, social worker with GKCCEH.
Wilkes says the issue is compounded by the fact that Kansas and Missouri are experiencing a housing shortage.
The National Low Income Housing Coalition estimates Missouri is experiencing a shortage of more than 110,000 for extremely low-income renters.
In Kansas, the Sunflower State is estimated to be short by more than 50,000 homes.
“We’ve got organizations that will help with issuing like housing vouchers, but if there is no physical space for people to move into, then, I mean, there’s no housing options,” Wilkes said.
Shelter KC’s Shelter Launch program hopes to bridge that gap and is currently helping Rob and Carlos make ends meet.
The program pairs up men with a life coach who helps them find a job, manage a budget, get counseling services and stay at the shelter until they can save up enough money to move into a permanent home. Participants are encouraged to attend church services, required to stay sober and are allowed to enter the shelter at flexible hours to accommodate their work schedule.
Penn is still in the process of finding a job while Purdy is getting ready to move out after months of saving up.
“It’ll be the culmination of my work and what I’ve been believing in since I first hit rock bottom,” Purdy said.
However, Shelter KC is having difficulty placing the rest of its clients in a permanent home. The organization is working with transitional homes and landlords but the lack of housing and affordability continue to be factors playing against clients.
“It’s difficult to find an affordable apartment for the guys that they can get into and sustain,” said Eric Jackels with Shelter KC. “We work with other transitional living places that will maybe extend their stay and that are relatively inexpensive.”
Red Door Refuge Transitional Home works with Shelter KC and offers low-barrier housing to men. Founder Laurie Schwab says the home is designed to handle four men but is currently full as more than a dozen people are on wait lists trying to get in.
“All the prices are going up, and I think landlords are worrying that they’re not going to be able to be profitable, and so they’re kind of tightening the reins on a lot of things,” Schwab said. “And then at the same time, the dollars that these guys have to spend isn’t going as far as it used to because of gas and because of food going up — all these other expenses.”
Kansas City officials say they’re aware of the problem and have allocated $12.5 million to the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which incentivizes developers to build affordable housing units.
Last year, the city was awarded $8.3 million by the federal government to combat homelessness, and part of those funds will go into a Pallet shelter program that will provide 140 temporary beds. However, after more than a year, a location to place the pallet beds has yet to be found.
“It just comes down to being a physical housing problem,” Wilkes said. “I think that there are ways that we can look at getting people to increase their income to being able to afford to be on their own, but we just don’t have the physical space for people to move into.”
Two Americas is part of a KSHB and Scripps signature issue to help introduce our community to the America you know and the America you might not know. Our role as the media is to share the news of the day, but we also seek to give a voice to people we don’t hear from often.
Of course, there are many parts that make up our community, so we’re not just showing you two and we’re not pitting two sides against each other. Instead, we’re hoping to highlight solutions and showcase different perspectives to help us all better understand our area’s culture, our area’s past, and why our community feels the way it does today.