Kansas City Homeless Union Holds Rally, Demands Homes Not Shelters

Brynn Fitzsimmons

3/7/2021- Kansas City, Missouri

Qadhafi, leader of KC Homeless Union speaks at the Kansas City Homeless Solidarity Rally in front of the Kansas City, Missouri City Hall on March 7.

Photo by Andrei Stoica

The Kansas City Homeless Union invited the public to a rally Sunday, March 7, outside Kansas City Missouri City Hall, where the union has been occupying since January 31. Their occupation, which has run 37 days so far, is slated to continue until the city meets their demands.

“We here as a tactic to make them hear us,” said Qadhafi, the leader of the union. “The union is our voice.”

In a proposal released via Facebook and presented at the city’s recent budget hearings, the union demanded around $5.8 million in funding to go toward buying vacant, city-owned homes from the land bank, paying houseless individuals to convert those homes into livable residences, and supply water to unhoused individuals via water stations throughout the city. The union is also demanding they be included in city discussions around houselessness.

“The City should convert vacant and City-owned properties into permanent homes for those who are unhoused. The Land Bank has dedicated funds for repurposing vacant, abandoned, and blighted properties into productive use for the improvement of the Kansas City Community,” their demands document explains. The document requests $2.3 million from the land bank funding to provide homes, $1.7 million toward homeless initiatives to support transition into those houses, $1.7 million in contract labor to employ unhoused individuals to renovate the homes, and $65,000 to provide water.

“The City dedicates money to car washes for police vehicles, which would pay for at least one free water station or yearly maintenance,” the document states.

Community expresses support for union

A number of other groups have expressed support for the union’s demands, both during the rally and as part of the budget hearings. Groups such as KC Tenants, GYRL, KC Mutual Aid, and Kansas City Food Not Bombs raised funds, donated supplies and services and showed support at Sunday’s event.

Many groups have been vocal in their support of the union during city budget hearings as well. Christina Ostmeyer, a leader with KC Tenants, tied KC Tenants’ demands to fund the office of tenant advocate to the demands of the union in her testimony during a budget hearing on Tuesday, March 2, “I participated in the budget process last year, and I've participated this year,” she said. “And time and time again, I see the same people here not getting for what they've asked for, and what they've asked for, because they want it but because they need it, we need an office of the tenant advocate that's fully funded at $1.2 million. We need for the city to recognize the Kansas City homeless Union's demands, and not put band aids over the problem to actually fund prevention services and homes for those who are experiencing homelessness.”

Union demands homes, budget changes

Members of the Kansas City Homeless Union testified before city officials at the recent public budget hearings, discussing their demands as well as their plans to address houselessness in a way that better serves their community.

One member, Casper, said this at the hearing on March 2: “Everybody wants to tell their story. Basically mine is I’ve been hitchhiking and riding freight trains across the country for the past ten years, and I’ve learned a lot. Using the knowledge that I have and using access to the resources that I’ve been able to find, I was able to gain a foothold in the Kansas City Homeless Union. So with the skills that I already have in the construction business, I’d like to restore any properties secured by the union so that homeless people can live a property lifestyle.”

He went on to detail union demands for funding and explained how that funding would be used to provide permanent solutions by renovating vacant properties the city already owns, a tactic that has been used in other cities as well.

“The Kansas City Homeless Union has a list of demands,” Casper explained. “First of all, we want homes. Where is this going to come from? It’s going to come from the land bank…The city is spending millions on shelters and services. You know, Bartle Hall is going to close in two weeks. What are all those people gonna do? Where are they gonna go? They're gonna come here with us. No, they're gonna be out on the streets, doing whatever it is they have to do to survive. We shouldn't have to survive. We want to thrive.”

Casper stressed that thriving means permanent housing, not just shelters. “Kansas City spends tons of money on maintenance, for contract labor,” he said. “They could allocate $1.7 million and give everybody a t-shirt and a pair of black pants and, you know, work them for a week at $10 an hour or whatever the minimum wage is. Half of these people out here would be grateful to work to have an opportunity to prove themselves and speak for themselves.”

“It's our city,” he said. “And we want it back.”

A seat at the table

One of the union’s demands is for “a seat at the table,” something Qadhafi and other members have been vocal about both at Sunday’s event and at budget hearings and other interactions with public officials.

“Everybody (that’s) got any mission, taskforce, board that's not including the homeless union but continues to claim they speaking for the homeless people need to get right,” Qadhafi said at the March 2 budget hearing. “Because the homeless people have a voice. It's called the union….We got a voice and we coming. Our vote will count. We will not be insignificant no more.”

While Qadhafi and other union leaders have repeatedly stated that others need to stop speaking for the houseless and instead allow the union and members of the houseless community their own seat at the table, Qadhafi also said at Sunday’s rally that Kansas City needed to pay attention.

“It’s the people’s fault for allowing this,” he said of houselessness in Kansas City. “And I’m not looking for everybody to get involved, but I’m looking for some people to get mad as hell, mad enough to stand up and do something about it. I’m looking for people that’s...mad enough to get involved and do something about it.”

“I’m hear to make the whole damn city uncomfortable,” he said. “From now on, when I see homeless people, I be thanking them for their service, you know, because everyone’s walking on their backs, and they’re some of the strongest people that I know.”

“I’m asking the people to continue to get our back,” he said. “This is an historic event in other places,” he said of the occupation. “Kansas City, we need a historic response.”

“The people upstairs will bow down to our will,” he said, gesturing behind him toward City Hall. “The people have the power to make change.”

The Kansas City Homeless Union can be reached via Facebook, and are accepting cash donations exclusively through their CashApp, $hugyohood.

Published on: 3/13/2021