Task force suggests new ways to help the homeless



To better deal with homelessness, a task force recommends a data system to link agencies and direct clients to services.

The Homelessness Task Force of Greater Kansas City presented the plan Thursday to the city council.

Councilman Scott Wagner, chairman of the group, said the presentation is the first of many that will be made to other cities in the area.

A real-time evaluation and data system would allow those who need help to get it faster and more efficiently and keep track of who needs what, he said.

In San Diego, for instance, they can tell at any time the top 25 users of such services. Then they can target them for extra help to save city money and better assist those who most need it.

As it is in this area, many “frequent fliers” repeatedly go into hospital emergency wards at great cost instead of into housing, said Jason Bohn of the Mid-America Regional Council, the staffer for the task force.

He said there is a range of needs for a range of different homeless people.

Among them are about 2.500 youth and 8,841 high school students, but 12 percent of homeless are veterans and 28 percent are victims of domestic violence.

There are also families, substance abusers and those with mental illness.

There are not enough services for the youth, students and families but there likely are for the others with better coordination, he said.

As it is now, he said, not even he can tell how many beds or what services are available without extensive phone calls.

Along with the data system, there should be a housing triage process that determines who needs housing, who does not and where to send them for the best results.

“We don’t want to keep doing things multiple times that aren’t doing any good,” he said. “We have lots and lots of agencies – we just don’t direct people to the right places in some cases.”

A common assessment tool should also be used by agencies so clients do not have to keep filling out forms at different places as they get rejected, Bohn said. Instead they can be sent to whatever option is best for them, which may not be housing at all in many cases.

It may be that dealing with past due bills or relatives could solve the problem in a simpler and cheaper way, he said.

Mayor Sly James asked if anyone has checked to see if the city could use some its “exorbitant stock” of vacant and abandoned properties ( about 6,000) to help the homeless.

Bohn said some other cities have used that approach but there has not yet been much work done here on it.

Wagner said,  “Figuring out what has to happen to make that work well has at least started.”

Bohn estimated a linked data system and the rest would cost about $100,000 to plan and probably not over a half million dollars in all.

But agencies that are too often now content with their own silo approaches may not be ready for unification, he said.

Wagner noted that agencies have been able to break down those silos in some other cities, “at least related to data.”



  1. Kansas City already has systems like this in place. MAACLink tracks users of social service agencies such as food pantries, rent assistance, homeless shelter bednights, day center services, etc. Integrating hospital records will be much harder because of patient privacy protection, but all the hospitals and mental health networks in the area have computerized systems which are keeping track of patients and clients, and they can tell who their “power users” in the system are. The 100,000 Homes Campaign has begun integrating much of the data to find who the most vulnerable homeless people are and connect them with services. United Way 2-1-1 exists as a centralized resource to quickly tell people what services are available to them.

    A MAJOR problem with this approach is that there is a sizable amount of homeless people who just don’t want to be tracked. How many people would cough up their social security number just to get a meal at a soup kitchen?

    The problem is not that tracking services don’t exist. The greater problem is one of communication between agencies. Many homeless services and healthcare workers have been working on integrating client care and referral services for several years – without the city’s help. The city has always had grandeur plans of developing a central place to “put” and “fix” all the homeless people. But it hasn’t ever put its money where its mouth is. Instead, it continues to push them further and further from downtown, effectively pushing the problem onto neighborhoods further away from where city council meets.

  2. Jewell says:

    I agree, Eric, and I’ve seen the consequences of pushing the homeless out into neighborhoods, where they get lost in the brush -literally, that’s what happens. And they don’t care about their surroundings. They throw trash around, drink, get into fights, break into cars and/or homes, harass residents of the neighborhoods where they roost. Out of sight (of City Council members), out of mind….? I suppose you’re right.

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