“They Exploited and Extorted Us”: Homeless Union Says City Failed in Support

Brynn Fitzsimmons

7/21/2021- Kansas City, Missouri

Qadhafi, leader of the Kansas City Homeless Union, meets with Mayor Quinton Lucas on April 5, 2021.

Photo by Andrei Stoica

“I’m tired of being a program…I ain’t gonna be nobody’s program,” said Qadhafi, leader of the Kansas City Homeless Union, in an interview on Sunday, June 27. He spoke at that time of the failure of the city’s hotel program, which was meant to connect houseless individuals with services and permanent housing. However, as the hotel program came to a close and more permanent solutions continued to be tied up in committee, many unhoused leaders, including Qadhafi, expressed frustration. “Everything is a distraction—except what the fuck we asked,” he said.

KCHU’s initial demands were homes, water, jobs and a seat at the table in city decisions regarding houselessness. Qadhafi said none of those have happened. July 15 was the last date of the hotel program for unhoused individuals in Kansas City.

The Finance, Governance and Public Safety Committee met Wednesday, July 21 at 10 a.m., and considered three proposals: one which would solicit Requests for Proposals for possible locations that could be converted into various housing solutions; one to create a solicitation process to increase current temporary services, such as shelters; and one which would allow the City Manager to enter into contract with Verge, a Pallet Community, to create pallet homes. All three proposals were held.

However, houseless individuals have pushed back against the continued expansion of city programs. Allie Stewart, who testified Wednesday, took issue with the solicitation of more proposals for services for the houseless—without that money going to the houseless.

“This is money was allocated for homeless people, not for everybody to jump on the bandwagon and see if they can bring into the fold so by the time you will get around to us, we there might be some left, hopefully,” she said.

City Council members emphasized the need for accountability from service providers as well as service providers for varying needs, and hoped the proposed legislation would enable new solutions to be brought forward.

“I look at this as an opportunity for us to follow our city process and establish an RFP…and really make informed decision about the best way to move forward,” said Councilwoman Rayna Parks-Shaw.

“Our housing needs are not just one,” said City Manager Brian Platt. “It’s not just one income level. It’s not just one type of person or one type of need, and we would like to leave it open to see what’s out there. It could be an old hotel that could be converted into housing. It could be a school. It could be a healthcare facility. It could be, you know, vacant housing. It could be a lot of things. And this will help us accept those proposals and then determine how much funding we’re going to need to set aside for that.”

Community Criticizes City’s Slow Response

All three items were held in committee, with Chairwoman Catherine Shields saying at the outset that she did not plan for the committee to take action until there was further information.

Public comment—which was initially limited to one minute until the public protested and Shields changed the limit to two minutes—commented on the city’s slowness.

“There's no urgency,” said Qadhafi, who is one of the leaders of the Kansas City Homeless Union as well as a leader with KC Tenants. “I’d like the city council to go and become homeless. Live in your car until the decision is made, but don't live in your luxury as house and make decisions.”

“We have a chairwoman by the name of Catherine Shields that seems to hold back and continue to delay, nothing but a change and direction in our city,” said Anton Washington, who is on Mayor Quinton Lucas’ Homeless Taskforce. He also reminded the committee that, with the eviction moratorium expiring July 31, housing insecurity and houselessness will only get worse.

Others, like Reverend Ester Holzendorf, pointed out that the city has known about the urgency of the problem for quite some time, given that 2021 started with the news of the death of Sixx (Scott Eicke), a houseless man who died of exposure on New Year’s Day. “Somebody froze to death,” Holzendorf reminded the committee. “Somebody died, for lack of whatever we can stop it. And we can do something about it and there is the urgency of now.”

Hotel Program and Addressing Houselessness

The program came following discussions between city officials and unhoused individuals, including the Kansas City Homeless Union, who occupied the grounds outside City Hall from the end of January up until the start of the hotel programs in March. Camp 6ixx, a houseless camp in Westport, had similar promises made, and many individuals there also went to hotels in March.

However, as the hotel program end date came closer, many KCHU members periodically returned to City Hall front lawn. They said they and other unhoused Kansas City residents were promised more than a temporary fix. A tiny home initiative, connection to wraparound services and other support were all part of what Kansas City Homeless Union Qadhafi said they were promised. Furthermore, KCHU has said they will take steps, including returning to City Hall, if needed, to get their initial demands met: homes, water, jobs and a seat at the table in decisions about houselessness.

Qadhafi said many involved in the hotel program “proved to be treacherous when money got involved.” He said many houseless individuals never received the wraparound services they were promised, and that they felt mistreated at the hotels.

“Feeding us was not in their so-called program, so I was personally setting different people to feed us,” he said.

“They was treating us like third-class citizens,” he said. “A lot of people left on their own.”

Elijah X, who stayed at two of the hotels during the initiative, said houseless guests were told they couldn’t use the pool or access food the same way other guests could. He said he was told, “It’s for paying customers, and if we do that, we’re disturbing them.”

Hotel Program Ends; Sweeps Restart

With the hotel program ending, several camps have reemerged, including Camp 6ixx. The camp, which is located in Westport, was swept Sunday, July 18, with video showing Kansas City Waste Management throwing camp items into trash trucks. Residents were taken to Penn Valley Park, where Midwest Homeless Collective worked to gather new supplies and donations to replace what had been lost in the sweep.

“How are we supposed to get jobs if we can’t sleep anywhere?” said one woman in the video, who said she is currently living in her car. “These are people’s homes. We just bought these tents last night, and you’re throwing them away?”

However, many houseless individuals have serious reservations about returning to shelters, and recount stories such as being turned away due to health issues.

Houseless individuals are also currently not allowed to return to City Hall lawn, where KCHU camped before the hotel program, due to issues with the City Hall Parking Garage. Several options are being considered by the city to fix the garage, with $5 million being the lowest cost option. Qadhafi said he was also arrested for allegedly trespassing on City Hall front lawn as houseless individuals began to return there earlier this month.

“They criminalized us,” he said. “They done turned us into criminals for being homeless.”

Several individuals gave testimony at Wednesday’s committee hearing regarding the violences of sweeps. Winifred Jamieson, who is also one of the leaders of Friday Night Protest, said she’d seen many of her neighbors’ homes swept.

“I used vacation time yesterday to pack up and relocate ten of my neighbors from their homes to Independence Avenue, Paseo because…the city evicted them with less than 24-hour notice,” she said. “In any other circumstance that action eviction would be illegal, but because my neighbors live in tents, they have no rights. (They’re told) either move or lose…their few belongings they have and be taken to jail. I don't think any of you understand the trauma every sweep causes our houses friends it is an act of violence.”

“They Value Property Over People.”

As concerns about location continue to come up in both full council meetings and committee meetings, Qadafhi said talk of houseless individuals or tiny home communities impacting property value ignore the humanity of houseless people.

“If everybody’s [saying] ‘not in my backyard,’ then there’s nowhere,” he said. “We depreciate the property value because there’s no human value.”

“They value property over people,” he said. “We homeless everywhere; we ain’t just homeless in the 3rd district.”

Qadhafi and other unhoused leaders also criticized the Lotus Group, the umbrella organization that has managed the hotel programs. City council raised questions in previous meetings regarding the money spent for Lotus’ services. Qadhafi, however, said, “The Lotus Group has no interest in us…had we had a seat at the table, the table would have include KC Tenants or some other group that’s been here,” he said. Instead, he said Lotus Group was underinformed and underequipped, and other groups, like the Greater Kansas City Coalition to End Homelessness, “get paid to do stuff for the homeless.”

“We could have took $5 million and bought houses that’s already ready,” he said when discussing the amount the city spent for Lotus Group. “It’s a feel-good smokescreen.”

“It isn’t what they promised would be after this,” Jimmy, another core organizer with KCHU, said. “They promised that housing would be after this.”

KCHU is collecting funds via CashApp at $hugyohoodinc. MHC is collecting funds via their Facebook page.

Published on: 7/21/2021