Founder of Scott Eicke Warming Center discusses houselessness, future directions

Brynn Fitzsimmons

3/13/2021- Kansas City, Missouri

The Scott Eicke Warming Center at Bartle Hall, Kansas City, Missouri

Photo by Anna Stelmach

In just a few days, the Scott Eicke Warming Center at Bartle Hall, Kansas City, Missouri will either have to move locations or shut down. The warming center is named for Scott “Sixx” Eicke, who died of hypothermia on New Year’s Day.

The city, which has allowed Creative Innovative Entrepreneurs (CIE) and a number of other volunteers and community groups to operate the warming center out of Bartle Hall, has only agreed to the partnership through March 17.

Anton Washington, director and founder of CIE as well as the warming center, said that with the deadline quickly approaching, he’s searching for options to continue offering services to the houseless community.

“I speak with the houseless community…and they say that they want housing, jobs, clothing. They want food and places to lay their heads, and they need medical attention,” he said. He said he envisions a version of the warming center that functions for the next three to five years, serving as a clearinghouse for connecting people to wraparound services.

Similar measures—wraparound services that bring together a wide variety of community organizations and programs to address the multifaceted factors that create barriers to getting and keeping housing—have proven hugely successful in nearby communities like Kansas City, Kansas, which halved the number of students experiencing houselessness in just four years through Impact KCK.

“This is about being able to get these individuals…the proper care that they need,” Washington said.

Washington said the warming center started after he participated in a meeting in which a leader from Free Hot Soup, a group that hosts picnics and offers resources to those experiencing houselessness throughout the metro, asked where she was supposed to send people who were sleeping in tents during record-breaking cold temperatures in January.

Washington said there wasn’t a clear answer from the city. “That’s when I got on the phone,” he said. “I stayed on them because I was sick and tired of seeing people die.”

“We can’t just say we don’t know, because KC is a very, very big city…at the end of the day, we have Kansas Citians that are not even accounted for,” he said. “I’m not going to sit back and stand by and let these things happen when I have a voice.”

Most recently, efforts to connect people to resources has included a partnership with Downtown Community Improvement District and Downtown KC. Washington said the partnership allowed them access to liability insurance and other resources to be able to remain at Bartle Hall, which he saw as the most effective way to “make sure that we are connected with service providers that can give these individuals the proper care that they need.”

“I needed an entity that had a contract with the city,” he said of the partnership. “When they connected, CIE partnered with them just because of the fact of liability insurance.”

Washington’s GoFundMe for the center has raised over $23,000—money he just got access to on February 25. He said that while the center will continue to take donations to try to conserve their funds as much as possible, he plans to allocate those funds to serve the houseless community however he can.

“That money does not belong to me. That money belongs to the people who are houseless,” he said. “If they say they need water, the whole entire back end of Bartle Hall will be filled with water.”

He said he sees this way of allocating funds as crucially different from how the city—which allocated $8.5 million last year for services to those experiencing houselessness—allocates funds.

“Where’s (that money) at? It ain’t going to the houseless community, because if it did, this wouldn’t be happening right now,” Washington said.

Washington explained solutions can’t stop with the warming center, however. He said he hopes to connect with groups like the KC Homeless Union, which has been occupying outside City Hall for over a month, demanding $5.8 million in funding in the form of houses from the land bank, resources to pay houseless individuals to restore those houses, and water service to those houses. He also praised groups like KC Tenants and the activists and community members involved in the LGBTQ+ Commission for work they are doing for tenant and housing rights.

Washington also said eradicating houselessness will also mean eradicating the criminalization of houselessness and the over-policing of Black communities.

“We want to help decriminalize the basis of what’s going on in our communities,” he said. “We don’t need law enforcement to govern our communities. We do not. We have to rise above and take care of our own.”

Instead of putting $261.02 million toward police for FY 2021-2022, Washington said he wants investment in communities. He questioned funding for expenses like body cameras as well, saying those dollars would be better spent on the community.

“If they would act right, we wouldn’t need body cameras,” he said. “If they are properly trained with the mentality of going into a situation, then a body camera is not needed because then they’ll know how to deescalate a situation without having to pull their gun.”

“That funding that went into KCPD…could very well have went back into our community,” he said.

Published on: 3/13/2021