Stung by recent criticism and the troubling optics of a homeless camp on the lawn of City Hall, the Kansas City Council on Thursday approved an ordinance that looks for long-term housing solutions for those struggling to find shelter.
By virtue of a 10-0 vote, Kansas City Manager Brian Platt and the Housing and Community Services Department now have marching orders to solicit proposals for converting vacant property around the city that can be used for homeless and low-income housing.
The idea is to find ideas from social service providers and others to expand the city’s capacity to place the homeless in longer-term shelter, such as buying an old hotel or long-term care facility that can be converted for shelter.
Kansas City has about 1,700 homeless residents, according to Project Homeless Connect Kansas City.
Thursday’s ordinance carries a broad mandate to find housing and support services for the homeless and commits $2.5 million to the cause, for which City Hall expects to receive reimbursement from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The measure comes a week after the funding for a city program that placed homeless residents in hotels expired.
A similar ordinance came up during Wednesday’s meeting of the Finance, Governance and Public Safety Committee, but members did not vote on it after committee chair Katheryn Shields said she wanted to analyze the issue further.
So instead, Council member Heather Hall, who represents a Northland district that covers most of the Clay County portion of Kansas City, introduced Thursday’s ordinance from the floor and recommended it for same-day passage, which requires at least nine of the 13 votes on the City Council.
But with a heat wave on the way and the persistence of the homeless issue, Council members said Thursday they wanted to do something before they took a break from regular meetings next week.
Council members Shields, Teresa Loar and Kevin McManus were not at Thursday’s meeting.
“We have work to do,” said Council member Ryana Parks-Shaw, whose 5th District covers southeast Kansas City. “But this is definitely a great first step.”