By Kathy Feist
This past year, the Community Assistance Council has conducted three surveys, 50 conversations with community partners, and three focus groups to determine what south Kansas City needs for its lower income population.
The result: a community resource center–one that includes a youth and senior center, a larger food pantry, a clothing and houseware closet, and a broad range of community partners and services including mental health, utility and rent, and transportation assistance.
“Of course I could have told you that,” says CAC director Rachel Casey. But the 30-page Community Needs Assessment report is a necessary first step in CAC’s upcoming campaign to raise funds for a new multi-purpose community resource center in south Kansas City.
CAC’s current 9000 sq. ft. building is located near Ruskin High School. Formerly the administration building for the Hickman Mills School District, the worn cinder block building now houses the food pantry and 13 CAC staff members who assist clients with rent and utility assistance.
CAC is the only social services agency located in south Kansas City that provides a range of services for low-income residents. (Catholic Charities recently opened a satellite facility in the area but is still in its initial stage of development.) In its report, CAC states that “areas of south Kansas City have all the hallmarks of the urban core…but does not have the concentration of social service nonprofits, health facilities or even public transportation found in the urban core, midtown or even North Kansas City.” Within the five ZIP codes that CAC serves–64131, 64132, 64134, 64137 and 64138–are high poverty schools, high family and student mobility rates, high eviction rates, high number of rental residents and rising crime.
Last year, CAC served 26,526 individuals, up dramatically from 3,853 individuals in 2018. Most individuals requested help for rent and utility assistance.
Results of the Survey
CAC surveyed its low-income clients to see what they believed were their greatest needs. Of the 183 that chose to participate, the top concerns were:
- 96% Utility Assistance
- 91% Emergency Rent Assistance
- 83% Monthly Food Pantry & Hygiene Items
- 62% Diapers and Pull-ups
- 61% Emergency Mortgage Assistance
- 58% Food Delivery for Shut-Ins
- 57% Referrals to other Resources
- 56% Long-Term Case Management
- 55% Critical Documents (Birth Certificates, IDs, Social Security card)
- 53% Meals on Wheels
- 53% Apply for Public Benefits
- 53% Summer Youth Meals
In a surveyed designed for the public, CAC surveyed 120 community members on what they believed were the greatest gaps in services for south KC.
- 45% Education and GED Training
- 43% Employment Skills
- 43% Youth Violence Prevention
- 43% Clothing Closet
- 38% Youth Mental Health
- 38% Youth Physical, Arts, Education
- 38% Tutoring
- 37% Life Skills
- 35% Housewares Closet
- 32% Violence Prevention
- 32% Senior Social Connections
- 32% Minor Home Repairs
- 30% On-Site Childcare
- 28% Senior Health Services
- 28% On-Site Legal, Police
- 28% Technology
- 27% Auto Supporters
If CAC were to become a full resource center for those experiencing low to no income, here is how it could meet their needs, as expressed by participants in the study.
Food and Hygiene
A larger and new CAC facility would provide more healthy options such as fresh vegetables, quality proteins and low-sodium or low-sugar foods in the food pantry with the help of a walk-in freezer, a loading dock for Harvester’s food truck, and an expanded pantry.
Because 70% of clients are female, more hygiene and house cleaning products would be available.
CAC could provide washers and dryers and showers for those who are unhoused. Washers and dryers would also help with a future clothing closet.
Finally, CAC would revive Meals on Wheels in partnership with Kansas City Shepherd’s Center for home delivery of pantry foods for shut-ins, if a kitchen were part of the expansion.
CAC would like to work with clients beyond financial assistance for emergency rent or utility bills and improve their long-term income growth to reduce the need for future assistance.
Income, Education, Employment
CAC would expand their partnerships with organizations such as the Women’s Employment Network or the Metropolitan Community College, etc. Onsite childcare would also be available for parents meeting with CAC staff or for possible emergency situations. According to CAC’s respondents, childcare was the number one help needed for employment.
CAC would prefer not to expand into clinical services, but continue to support current health programs and services. CAC has the advantage of asking questions about physical and mental health needs when assessing clients and could refer them to health agencies.
During CAC’s focus groups, clients said they would not let their children play outside, go to parks or even to The Bay waterpark for fear of fights and violence. CAC could provide a safe place for after-school and summer activities, mentoring, connections to business owners and services for youth.
Parents were also desperate for mental health support for their children, according to Casey. CAC would provide referrals or even clinic hours for physical and mental health providers to address needs for youth and adults onsite.
Currently there is no senior center or senior services in the CAC community. By partnering with Kansas City Shepherd’s Center, CAC would provide safe, engaging programs and services for seniors, as well as re-establish Meals on Wheels for south KC.
A new CAC facility would also provide a housewares closet (small and large appliances and furniture), computer lab, commercial kitchen, library and games center, a large common area for community meetings and gatherings.
South Kansas City has no homeless center, no community kitchen, no senior center, no YMCA, no youth center, and limited public transportation, making it a health services desert. CAC’s hope is to be a long overdue one-stop shop for the community’s pressing needs.