Proposed JoCo homeless shelter would cost $1.5M each year to operate, agency says

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The Kansas City nonprofit recommended to operate a proposed shelter and housing services center in Lenexa would need an estimated $1.5 million a year to operate it, a third of which may be asked of municipal and county governments.

The longtime housing service provider reStart, whose mission is to move people away from homelessness, told county commissioners during a work session Thursday that it would seek its operating budget from a variety of sources, including federal and state grants and private donations, as well as support from the county and municipalities.

Stephanie Boyer, CEO of reStart, along with county staff and officials from United Community Services of Johnson County, gave a first look at plans for the La Quinta Inn and Suites and a vacant Denny’s Restaurant near the intersection of Interstate 35 and 95th Street in Lenexa.

The county has allocated $6 million to buy the property, and $100,000 has already been spent in earnest payment. It has so far spent $203,000 for due diligence.

The purchase of the 2.6 acres is pending assessments of the buildings and a successful special use permit application to the city of Lenexa. Closing is scheduled for Oct. 31.

reStart’s goal is to get people into stable housing

Boyer stressed that reStart will offer its services with a focus on getting people out of homelessness.

reStart has served the metro for 43 years and has 17 different kinds of programs supporting 1,600 people per year, Boyer said. Unlike stereotypical representations of homeless services, all of reStart’s programs have case management and other services, she added.

“I don’t want anyone to be scared or nervous. This is going to be totally fine, and you’re not even going to really notice that there’s any different kind of operation happening there,” she said.

The work session covered several topics. Some other takeaways:

  • reStart officials are looking at splitting the hotel building’s use into two parts, with 35-40 units going toward longer-term housing and 40-45 toward interim “shelter” housing, Boyer said.
  • The organization emphasized wrap-around services to help people get established in stable housing, Boyer said. She said its services differ from warming centers or some other shelters that force people to leave during the day, which encourages a “survival mentality” of the clients.
  • The condition of the former Denny’s restaurant is poor enough to consider it unusable without major improvements, said Kyle Heltne, of the county’s facilities management department. The roof leaks enough during wet weather to cause standing water in the building, he added. The hotel is in fair condition, but would need a fire suppression system to meet code requirements.
  • Although ownership of the property would be transferred to the operator, Johnson County would still have oversight via a 10-year deed restriction requiring it to remain a non-congregate shelter (or a shelter that offers private spaces for guests) with monitoring of its physical property as well as referral methods.

Commissioners asked about restrictions

Commissioners asked for more details during the discussion.

Commissioner Shirley Allenbrand asked, and Commissioner Charlotte O’Hara followed up on, whether the shelter would take out-of-county residents.

Boyer said those experiencing homelessness or housing challenges within Johnson County would be the targeted population, but because these people often lack proof of an address, it may be difficult to prove anyone is coming from outside of Johnson County.

Kristy Baughman, executive director of United Community Services, added that someone based in Kansas City, Missouri, might not have the freedom to travel all the way to Johnson County for services.

The questions reStart will ask of people seeking services at the Lenexa center are meant to find the most effective program to help them, Baughman said.

“You really want to provide help for people who have some kind of connection to the community,” she said.

O’Hara also asked whether “illegal aliens” or non-citizens could be served.

“I understand the priority and I understand targeting but when the real world comes knocking at their door, you cannot limit who you accept on a geographic basis, correct?” O’Hara asked.

Baughman said ensuring U.S. citizenship probably isn’t a requirement that can be made, but the processes in place encourage support for in-county clients.

It is yet to be determined whether the center will take families, Boyer said.

Other questions

O’Hara and Commissioner Michael Ashcraft brought churches into the conversation.

Ashcraft said he struggled with the size of the program. He wondered if a more cost-effective means of helping would come from churches taking in small numbers of people.

That approach does not take into account the services offered to help people get stable housing, said Assistant County Manager Joe Connor.

O’Hara also questioned whether a government program could provide the extended support of a community.

“That’s the value of churches in this, that they can walk on a long-term basis,” she said. “It’s a commitment, and it takes a lot of love. When you’re in a government program, that part — love — is a little difficult.”

Chairman Mike Kelly disagreed about the lack of love. He said case workers are compassionate in an unforgiving field.

“I think in terms of love there’s a lot of it. It’s unfortunate that you would criticize the work of professionals just because it’s not in a faith-based setting,” he said.

Commissioner Janeé Hanzlick, formerly the CEO of Safehome, a domestic violence agency based in Johnson County, noted that there are myths about homelessness that need to be overcome.

“The folks that are homeless are not scary, they’re not trying to make money off a system or be lazy,” she said. “We need to be really mindful of making assumptions about people who are homeless that are not true.”

Commissioners took no action during the work session. The item is next expected to be at the commission in June.

Keep reading: ‘Beacon’ or ‘band-aid?’ Johnson County moves forward on homeless shelter plan

About the author

Roxie Hammill
Roxie Hammill

Roxie Hammill is a freelance journalist who reports frequently for the Post and other Kansas City area publications. You can reach her at roxieham@gmail.com.