By KRISTIN GALLAGHER
(WARRENSBURG, Mo., digitalBURG) –
Part 1: A community effort
Editor’s Note: This is the first story in a six-part series that offers a glimpse into the lives of the homeless in our community.
All too often, the issue of homelessness is ignored within communities.
But the fact that there are people who live without homes is a substantial issue in many areas, including Warrensburg.
Pastor Joel Kurz, along with the group Johnson County Help, are working to help people find homes or at least temporary shelter.
“It is a complex structure of many factors,” Kurz said of the reasons for homelessness. “Everybody makes mistakes…and often the support of the wider community is not so large.”
But Warrensburg has a strong base of supporters putting in their time to help those who are less fortunate.
Project Homeless Connect, which took place Oct. 19 at the University of Central Missouri, was a prime example of the community coming together to help others. The event helped connect individuals with childcare, the food pantry, housing, welfare, and other government programs.
The event also featured booths designed to help those in need, such as food donations, personal hygiene items, eye exams, adult literacy help, utility payment assistance, and even free haircuts.
“The turnout was great,” said Aloni Benson, 22, a volunteer at one of the booths. “When I was growing up, my mom had to go to a lot of church events to get food donated to our family around the holidays. That motivated me to give back to the community…I had no idea there were so many less fortunate people in Warrensburg. This event allows me to be a part of the bigger scheme of things.”
Although this was the first year for the Homeless Connect event, there are many other events in Warrensburg to help those in need. Every year the CROP Hunger Walk helps raise money for the local food center and the Church World Service.
This year marked the ninth annual walk, and the event usually brings in between $9,000-$14,000. Twenty-five percent of the money goes to the local food center and 75 percent goes to the Church World Service.
Last winter, a homeless shelter was established on Culton Street but it was temporary and based on a five-month lease. Johnson County Cares is working to establish a permanent homeless shelter in the former Red Cross building on Emerson Street.
The group is working with registered architects to design the floor plan for the current building and also for an addition.
Construction was set for October but was postponed. The city approved plans for the current building, but still must approve a parking lot plan and other details. Thus, the group can only work on deconstructing the building. No improvements can be made until the city approves the parking lot.
“I don’t think the city understands the bigger issue,” one of the volunteers said. “I understand the need to follow the rules, but it is getting cold outside, and many people have no where else to go.”
The shelter is on hold, but Kurz and the volunteers are still working to make this shelter a reality. Volunteers have torn down walls inside the shelter and pulled up old flooring to eventually replace with new carpeting.
The group is also reaching out to possible volunteers in hopes of bringing in some extra hands when it comes time to begin building.
“A lot of people have this fear factor,” Kurz said. “They don’t want to help directly.” But those people have helped in their own way – providing many resources and donations for the upcoming shelter.
So, with help on call and floor plans in progress, organizers have high hopes of soon providing a place that the homeless in Warrensburg can finally call “home.”