Kansas City treated the homeless settlements that lasted for weeks at City Hall and in the Westport area as a sudden emergency. But was he? And if so, was it humanitarian or public relations?
“Someone is going to have to define what the perceived emergency was at that time,” said Councilor Dan Fowler, chairman of the city council’s special committee on housing policy.
The city’s hasty action to sweep people living in homeless camps into hotel rooms for 90 days in April, however well-intentioned, caused a mess of its own – including hotel rooms. damaged hotel, huge spikes in criminal calls, threats and suspected assaults. , hoteliers and clients under siege, and pressing questions about the funding and administration of the quickly organized program.
A Kansas City police officer shared statistics at a stakeholder meeting on Wednesday that show an exponential increase in calls for help from hotels in Northland – home to eight of the 12 hotels housing the homeless.
As Fowler supports decisive action to help the homeless, he adds, âThere are a lot of unanswered questions that I think we need to get answered, and this would definitely be one of them: how this process taking place?
In fact, in many cases, very good. At least two dozen of the roughly 400 homeless participants were able to seek and secure employment in the comfort and safety of a hotel room.
And Marqueia Watson, executive director of the Greater Kansas City Coalition to End Homelessness, said the new nonprofit administering the program, Lotus Care House, is mobilizing social services and initiating unprecedented collaboration in the advocacy community. homeless.
On the other hand, there are the problems mentioned above.
Additionally, a hotelier, who asked to identify himself only by his last name, Mr Patel, accused the town’s chief contractor for the hotel’s homelessness program, Mark Patel, of the Lotus Hospitality Group, for threatening him during a phone call after the controversial public meeting on the issue Wednesday in Northland.
âYou know what I can do. I will destroy you, âsaid Mr. Patel, who was told by Mark Patel, who has no connection. He also said Mark Patel said he wanted him “beaten”.
Mark Patel does not deny “defending myself” against baseless allegations, but denies making threats. “How could I destroy someone?” he said. “It’s not even correct.”
Others, including Mr Patel, allege that Mark Patel orchestrated things to get hoteliers in his sphere of influence to win deals to house the homeless at city expense – so far more than 1 , $ 7 million. Mark Patel also denied this, stating as a longtime hotelier here: âI have a relationship with all of the hotel owners who participate. But that doesn’t mean they’re influenced by me. He said he sent out invitations to selected hoteliers to attract low rates – which he said saved the city nearly $ 1 million.
The bottom line, however, is that the hastily launched agenda has stoked animosity, suspicion – and some fear: A number of parties involved are reportedly not speaking officially for fear of retaliation.
Indeed, a homeless advocate involved in the situation, who requested anonymity, confirmed reports of the above issues of property damage, bad behavior and physical threats from some homeless people against the staff who moved them to hotel rooms: great job in the homeless community. And then after doing what we did with this hotel project, I felt like it undoes everything I had ever done.
What was the involvement of Mayor Quinton Lucas?
City Councilor Teresa Loar notes that the council has also been largely left out of the process and has not even approved a contract between the city and Lotus Care House. Fowler will chair a meeting on the issue on June 9.
âWe have all this (federal) money coming in, and it’s coming in huge amounts,â Loar says. âAnd I don’t know if we know where this is going. I’m just nervous about wasting huge sums of money like drunken sailors. In all my years in town hall, I have never seen anything like it in my life. There is no liability for that sort of thing.
It didn’t have to be that way. While even temporary housing can help get people back on their feet, the city’s hasty sweeping of homeless camps into hotel rooms has created its own set of problems. It also remains that Lotus Care House, the nonprofit recently formed by hotelier Mark Patel, was chosen to lead the effort without a competitive bidding process following the withdrawal of Hope Faith.
Even Watson, who is excited about the possibilities now, concedes that at the start of the effort, âwe kind of saw a program come online that didn’t have a lot of forethought and planning. It was sort of a theft situation by the seat of our pants. “
âIt was kind of a ‘shoot, get ready, aim’ approach,â says Fowler. âThis is generally not conducive to long-term sustainable results. There was an immediate reaction, I think, without thinking about the whole problem. “
Why was this emergency even necessary? What was the urgency, as the year-old COVID-19 pandemic clearly ebbed and the weather warmed? The best that Mark Patel can guess is that the urgency came from Mayor Quinton Lucas’ efforts with the Kansas City Ad Hoc Homeless Union to end encampments at City Hall and Westport.
The mayor’s spokesperson only answered questions about it all, namely that all contracts surrounding the hotel program were between the city manager and outside agencies – as if the mayor had nothing to do with everything. that.
âI have no idea what the emergency is,â Loar says.
âI kind of have the same question,â Fowler says. âI guess you could say the emergency was people camping out on the South Lawn of Town Hall or in Westport. Homeless people have been around for a long time and, unfortunately, likely will be for a long time. People in distress are always an emergency, to one degree or another. If we can help them, we must help them.
âI don’t regret doing something at all. But our city processes are also there for a reason, and that’s to make sure the questions get answered from the get-go. And it’s kind of collapsed at this point.
Absolutely. By trying to solve one problem too quickly, the city seems to have created more. Now that the problem has been folded, it’s time to unravel its very problematic solution.