Published July 6th, 2023 at 6:00 AM7 minute read
“Who are the houseless?”
That question is at the heart of this story, which asks folks experiencing houselessness to define who they are and share their own story.
An estimated 1,798 people are houseless in Kansas City, according to the Greater Kansas City Coalition to End Homelessness.
The organization tallies the number of people who are at risk or are currently unsheltered each year. This year’s results are not yet available, but experts confirm that houselessness is on the rise.
Advocates and case workers share that the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the issue. In the past three years, they have seen an increase in requests for help as well as a reduced supply of help, though some smaller groups are working to fill in the gaps.
Today, folks with limited or no income face housing insecurity as inflation worsens housing affordability. Some folks who recently have been released from prison, foster care or have struggled with substance abuse face more barriers toward stable housing.
Housing status: Couch surfing. “It’s hard not to have a place to call your own.”
Preferred occupation: “Hands-on maintenance, fixing stuff.”
In one word, I am: “Hardworking.”
Story: “I’m a family man, but I been in jail for four years and got out two weeks ago.”
Hobbies: “Fishing and playing football with my boys. I like riding bikes with my kids and playing basketball.”
Favorite color: “Blue or black and silver. I’m a Raiders fan.”
Note to the public: “Everybody messes up. Everyone deserves a second chance.”
Word of advice: “Keep your head up high. Keep trying. You just got to find it in you. Don’t give up.”
Housing status: Staying with family. “My support system, my cousin. She is the bomb.”
Preferred occupation: Poet, advocate.
In one word, I am: “Compassionate.”
Story: “I’m the life of the party… I’m a positive person, I’m trying. What I output I input, but sometimes we’re human. I haven’t had time to grieve.”
“I got into a bit of trouble right after the pandemic and my son was transitioned into a nursing home.”
“I lost my son on the 30th of June last year … His smile was everything. He smiled until his last breath saying, ‘Keep pushing, mama.’”
Hobbies: Singing, writing poetry.
Favorite color: Red.
Favorite song, her son’s favorite: Lauryn Hill’s “Tell Him.”
Note to the public: “Take me for who I am. In spite of how things look for me, I know I’m going to rise above it. This ain’t the end. This is the beginning.”
Word of advice: “Don’t let the hard times in life weaken you. Look for the good and strength in life.”
Housing status: Transitional living.
Preferred occupation: Entrepreneur, environmental and healthy food advocate/educator .
In one word, I am: “Groovy.”
Story: “I don’t like the word ‘homeless.’ I have a home but simply don’t live there … I used to be a house hopper. My family did not understand me.”
Hobbies: Education, environmental and nutritional advocacy.
Note to the public: Becoming houseless can happen to anyone, but help is hard to come by. “It’s a broken system.”
Word of advice: “If I was looking at me five or six years ago, I’d tell myself all you had to do is believe in yourself — even when others don’t.”
Housing status: Recently housed.
Preferred occupation: Barbecue master/chef.
In one word, I am: “Passionate.”
Story: “It’s very hard to deal with other family and get comfortable in other (people’s) environments …”
He was houseless for nearly three years and worried about the impact of instability on his young son. His hope is to find a house and a home for his 6-year-old son to be happy and free.
Hobbies: Barbecue, sports.
Favorite color: Red and black.
Note to the public: It is important to build better transportation to help folks get out of homelessness. “Anything is possible. You can reach out, get people off the streets. (Give) them the opportunity to work and give them a big boost of support. … It’s what the community needs.”
Word of advice: “Keep your head up. Don’t let anything stop you. … Set a goal and complete it.”
Housing status: Recently unhoused. “I ended up having to leave home two weeks ago and have been on the streets ever since. I didn’t have much time to prepare, I only had 10 or 15 minutes to leave. I’ve been out here ever since.”
Story: Holliman was a working nurse and said she experienced fatigue, heightened stress at work and a new mental health diagnosis. She self medicated and has substance abuse issues that got worse when she became houseless in early June after a breakup.
“I ended up having to quit my job because of (mental health issues and stress at work).”
“I tried to contribute… But with the panic attacks and everything it was just a slow fade, and everything went out of control.
In one word, I am: “Love. That’s what I value the most, I’m a sucker for love.”
Hobbies: Singing, listening to music.
Favorite color: Purple.
Words of advice: “Keep fighting. Stay connected to whatever gives you peace.”
Family matters: “I’ve been trying to work on repairing my relationship with (my son) because he’s the only child and that’s my miracle baby – even though he’s 21. He’ll always be my baby.”
Housing status: Living under the 20th and Holmes bridge. “It’s not for habitat.”
Story: “My whole life has been a struggle. I was one of the kids whose mom was a junkie, and her dad was never around, and I think a lot of my problems stemmed from that. I went into foster care at 17. And when I graduated high school, thank God, I ended up going back home to live with my biological parents and that didn’t work. I came to Kansas City when I was 18. I stayed under the 8th and Main bridge for two years, then I got pregnant with my daughter.”
Disclosure: “People should know that I’m a meth addict. Everything is not as rainbows and unicorns as everyone tries to make it seem.”
Note to the public: “I wish people would understand that though I have my mental health issues… I’m not defined by my trials and tribulations.”
Words of advice: “Keep your head up and have that person you can go to talk to, even if it is just a notebook.”
Favorite color: “Purple. My daughter’s name is Royalty.”
Favorite memory: “I’ll never forget Valentine’s Day. We go to the gas station, and (my husband) buys me a rose, a single rose. And he was like, ‘Babe, any day with you is the best day of my life.’ And he proposed.”
Housing status: Houseless since he was kicked out of a transitional home.
Story: “I was pretty bad in alcohol and had a wreck, done some property damage and got a DUI. I was going to kill myself. And I reached out to God. I cried out to him, he saved me. I came to Kansas City the day after that and did mission work for the Kansas City shelter – Shelter KC. I was there for about two years.”
Advice for someone in his situation: “Hopefully, no one else is in my situation.”
Note to the public: “The whole system is crossed up somewhere, and it’s really sad. Where their only option is to steal from someone worse off than you.”
Source of joy: “I felt like I’ve gotten smarter over the last year, more creative, more intuitive with God.”
Favorite color: Clear gold.
Favorite memory: “Volunteering on the Salvation Army truck. Those guys were so creative.”
Vicky Diaz-Camacho formerly covered community affairs for Kansas City PBS. Grace Hills is a University of Kansas journalism student and summer intern at Kansas City PBS.