KCK is close to securing a downtown grocery store. But officials shouldn’t stop there
A proposed grocery store in downtown Kansas City, Kan will address the nutritional needs of Wyandotte County residents. But local leaders should not abandon the other components of the healthy campus initiative proposed by the former mayor.
The tentative agreement between the Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas City, Kan. and cooperative grocer The Merc could be an important first step toward addressing complaints that too little has been invested in the central city.
Policymakers in Kansas City, Kan., have made building a downtown grocery a priority. But as critics point out, local officials often have focused their efforts and limited resources on development near the Kansas Speedway on the western edge of the county.
Former Unified Goverment Mayor Mark Holland had been the leading proponent of the Downtown Healthy Campus proposal. But he lost his bid for re-election last year, leaving the project without a key advocate.
Although the proposal for the Healthy Campus originally included a new YMCA-run community center and a grocery store at 11th Street and State Avenue, The Merc will operate at the southwest corner of Fifth Street and Minnesota Avenue as a standalone store.
Development of a new community center has been tabled for now. But negotiations should resume as soon as the ink is dry on the grocery store agreement.
The Merc, a consumer-owned cooperative, provides access to healthy, local and organic food and products. It runs one grocery store in Lawrence and a cafe at Lawrence Public Library’s downtown location.
Under the public-private partnership, The Merc will manage the space, but the Unified Government will own the building. The plan is to eventually sell the building to a private owner.
If the development agreement gains approval from a committee and then the full Unified Government Commission, city staff would develop final cost estimates in the coming months and work out remaining details.
Like his predecessor, first-year Mayor David Alvey should understand that the 14,000-square-foot grocery store is only part of the equation for some of the county’s most vulnerable citizens to sustain a healthy lifestyle. The community center is vital as well.
Community organizations including the YMCA of Greater Kansas City, the Wyandotte Health Foundation and KC Healthy Kids have all pledged support for the Healthy Campus. They should use their collective sway to re-enforce how important the community center is to downtown Kansas City, Kan.
A spokeswoman for the YMCA said Tuesday that the agency continues to have conversations with the Unified Government about opportunities to build a new Y in downtown Kansas City, Kan. Those talks must continue.
Planning and fundraising for the Healthy Campus have proven to be slow. But that shouldn’t derail the effort. This week's Merc news could jump-start the rest of the project.
If county leaders are serious about revitalizing the urban core, construction of the new community center must be high on their agenda. And a public-private approach similar to the grocery store agreement wouldn’t hurt, either.
Homelessness is new reality for thousands of Kansas City area teens
KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) -
Advocates in Kansas City are asking the community to look for the hidden homeless among us.
The most recent Point In Time count, conducted in January of each year, shows thousands of homeless teenagers in the five-county metro.
“Ninety-nine percent of the time, they didn’t make a decision that led them to homelessness. There was something going on in the home,” Cynthia Hoffman said.
Hoffman works for Synergy Services, one of only two shelters that have programs for teens in the city.
"They’re a vulnerable population," she said.
Estimates from counts like Point in Time, which is a federal Housing and Urban Development program, and from the school districts show there are approximately 6,000 13- to 24-year-olds in need.
“If we had anywhere approaching that number – a tenth of that number – with measles, we would call it an epidemic,” President and CEO of ReStart Evie Craig said.
Alleviating teen homelessness is a complex issue.
Although there are counts and some measurement available, that 6,000 number could be higher. That’s because the HUD Point In Time count does not include teens who are living on couches.
Craig said the terms “couch surfing” and “doubling up” are often used together and they can be dangerous for teenagers.
Within the first 48 hours of a teenager being on the streets, they could come in contact with a predator leaving them open to sex trafficking.
“So they get out of the unsafe situation and they find themselves, you know, couch surfing,” Hoffman said.
Advocates say that couch surfing isn’t just a sleepover. It is rare that teens stay somewhere without any reciprocation.
Craig has heard firsthand what teenagers have done to keep a roof over their head. Those exchanges can range from drugs to “it could, quite frankly, be sexual favors.”
Even though both ReStart and Synergy Services have programs that have been proven to work when they are able to reach teenagers in need, there aren’t enough beds.
In 2017, nearly 1,000 teens were turned away from both shelters because there wasn’t enough space.
Craig said that was only from the number of teens who called. She knows there are more teens and young people in need who didn’t reach out.
“There are responses to it. There are solutions to it and we are just maximizing those responses,” she said.
And, of the thousands of teenagers in need, LGBTQ teens can be in even more danger.
One nationwide study, conducted by the Modern Slavery Research Project, shows nearly one in four homeless LGBTQ teens said they had been trafficked.
In Kansas City, 50 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ.
ReStart, located downtown, and Synergy Services, off Parvin Road, specialize in helping this often-marginalized group.
These shelters do not require teenagers to conform to traditional gender norms. At Synergy, there are gender-neutral bathrooms and they immediately ask teens which pronouns they prefer to use.
Hoffman knows there are some shelters in the metro that have restrictions on members of the LGBTQ community; sometimes asking LGBTQ teens to go by their birth gender and adhere to clothing restrictions if they want a bed.
“A lot of times, they choose to stay on the street because they don’t want to have to deny their identity to have a bed to stay,” Hoffman said about quick decisions teens have to make when they become homeless. “It’s really difficult when the two options are couch surfing or staying in a shelter where you don’ get to be who you are.”
At Synergy, Hoffman and her Street Outreach team keep in touch with teenagers daily no matter if they are in a shelter or not.
But keeping teens off couches and teaching them how to be independent is the goal of these two shelters.
“I think Kansas City is a welcoming community. I think we really try to take care of our own,” Hoffman said.
VP Pence tears into McCaskill, shrugs off disruptions at KC event
Vice President Mike Pence repeatedly tore into U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill at a raucous event Wednesday in Kansas City that highlighted both the stark political division in the country and the role the region will have in deciding which party controls Congress next year.
Pence had barely begun his speech to more than 550 people at the Kansas City Marriott Downtown before a man jumped up and began yelling, “Mike, where are the children? Shame on you!” in reference to the separation of children from their families at the southern border.
The rest of the crowd — made up of Republican supporters from both sides of the state line — shouted “USA!” as police escorted the man out. Moments later, another heckler rose and the scene repeated itself. Outside the hotel, protesters gathered in nearby Barney Allis Plaza.
One of the men said in an email to The Star that he was given a trespassing warning after being escorted out of the event. He asked not to be identified by name, but said his goal was to confront "one of our leaders with the plain facts of their human rights abuses."
In his wide-ranging speech, Pence promised that the administration would oppose any efforts to abolish U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and touted an increase of military spending that President Donald Trump has signed.
Pence also promoted Trump's 2017 tax cuts, which was the official purpose of the event. But the larger theme of Pence's remarks and the other speeches was the GOP's efforts to keep control of Congress in the upcoming election.
"These aren't your parents' liberals anymore. I mean, the truth is the Democratic Party's gone further to the left than ever before and you need to look only at Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill," Pence said.
Pence devoted several minutes to Missouri's Senate race, which could determine which party controls the chamber next year.
He heaped praise on Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, who welcomed him to the stage, and repeatedly attacked McCaskill over her votes against Trump’s tax plan and against the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.
He called on the crowd to pressure McCaskill to support Trump's new nominee to the high court, federal Judge Brett Kavanaugh.
"The choice before Sen. Claire McCaskill is whether she's going to stand with (Senate Minority Leader) Chuck Schumer and her obstructionist party or whether she's going to stand with the people of Missouri and support the most qualified and most deserving nominee to the Supreme Court," said Pence, who helped recruit Hawley into the race.
McCaskill told The Star on Wednesday that she would use the same criteria to evaluate Kavanaugh as she does every judicial nominee.
"So it’s a matter of going over his written work, going over his speeches, going over his resume," she said. "... So this will be no different than what I’ve done on every nomination that has been named by the president.”
Pence's comments about the court dovetailed with an ad campaign launched by Hawley this week that focuses on the Supreme Court vacancy. The issue also was the center of Hawley's speech as he welcomed Pence to the stage Wednesday.
"The Supreme Court is the last thing between us and the radical left's attempts to remake our country," Hawley told the crowd.
The Trump administration has put its full-throated support behind Hawley ahead of next month’s primary.
The Cass County Republican Party on Wednesday posted an invitation on its website for a Hawley fundraising event that will feature an appearance by Trump. Hawley declined to confirm Wednesday the event is happening, even though the county party's announcement is signed "Josh."
"We always love to have the president any time he can come and the vice president being here, I think, is a big, big deal," Hawley said. "And the vice president today highlighting that the Supreme Court is such a defining issue, that Claire McCaskill will not say to her constituents what her criteria are, how she will vote, is absolutely unbelievable."
McCaskill's campaign spokesman Eric Mee said in an email that instead of attacking McCaskill, "who works across the aisle to get things done for Missouri families, Josh Hawley and Vice President Pence should have been explaining why the President is jeopardizing thousands of Missouri jobs with this Administration's reckless trade war and why his tax bill gave a massive windfall to the pharmaceutical drug companies when they haven't lowered the price of a single prescription drug."
Mee also noted that McCaskill has voted for two-thirds of Trump's judicial nominations.
A official transcript of Pence's speech released by the White House includes boos from the crowd when McCaskill's name was mentioned, but omits the two disruptions to Pence's speech.
The campaign-style event in Kansas City was organized by America First Policies, a nonprofit that was set up last year to advance Trump’s agenda. Pence’s chief of staff, Nick Ayers, was among the key figures in the group’s formation.
Pence’s visit to Missouri comes a day after state Rep. Jay Barnes, a Jefferson City Republican, filed a complaint with the Missouri Ethics Commission alleging that Ayers violated Missouri ethics laws while running former Gov. Eric Greitens’ 2016 campaign.
Ayers has denied the allegations in Barnes’ complaint, which also involve Greitens’ political nonprofit, A New Missouri Inc.
The event in Kansas City coincided with a $1,000-a-plate closed-door fundraiser for U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder at a separate, undisclosed location. Couples could pay $5,400 for a photograph with Pence.
Yoder, a Johnson County Republican, did not join Pence in Kansas City, choosing to remain in Washington for a House Appropriations Committee meeting. He posted a photo to Twitter Wednesday morning of him seeing the vice president to his plane in Washington.
Despite Yoder’s absence, the vice president’s decision to hold a fundraiser on his behalf is a signal of the importance that Yoder’s re-election in Kansas’ 3rd District holds for national Republicans as they try keep control of the U.S. House.
Pence said during his speech at the public event that Yoder is "working hard to advance the president's agenda.”
He also acknowledged two of candidates seeking the GOP nomination for governor in Kansas, Secretary of State Kris Kobach and Gov. Jeff Colyer, both of whom were in the audience. Pence said Kobach's name first, and the applause from the crowd made it difficult to hear Pence's recognition of the sitting governor.
The president has not officially endorsed either man ahead of the primary, but his oldest son, Donald Trump Jr., will headline a fundraiser for Kobach next week in Wichita.
Asked whether the association between Kobach and the Trump family puts him at a disadvantage, Colyer said he supports "the president 100 percent" and was honored to have Pence in the region campaigning for Yoder.
The America First Policies event was opened by former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, a fixture on cable news who has became a figure of prominence on the political right and figure of scorn on the left in recent years because of his outspoken criticism of the Black Lives Matter movement and other progressive causes.
Clarke dedicated a significant part of his opening remarks to criticizing the “resistance” movement that formed in the wake of Trump’s election.
"This isn't protest, ladies and gentlemen. This is insurgency,” Clarke said.
He said his concerns about the protests played a role in his decision to step down as Milwaukee County sheriff last year and to take a job with America First Policies.
Clarke was reportedly considered for a role in Trump’s administration after speaking at the Republican National Convention in 2016, but his performance as sheriff came under fierce scrutiny amid reports that at least four people, including a newborn baby, died in Milwaukee County Jail during a two-year period.
Clarke has drawn criticism for promoting conspiracy theories on social media, including the unfounded theory that the students who became gun-control activists after surviving the Parkland school shooting earlier this year are being organized by liberal billionaire George Soros.
Hawley said he did not hear Clarke’s speech and was not aware of his past controversies when asked about his decision to participate in an event with Clarke.