November 21, 2020

Mallory Herrmann
Staff Reporter

Lee’s Summit is seeking to create a coalition to address homelessness in the city.

Travis Forbes, chief of police, gave a presentation to the city council’s community and economic development committee last week outlining what homelessness is, as well as what strategies have been found to be effective – and what tactics are less effective.

Forbes began with the definitions used by HUD (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development), which differentiate between those who are sheltered (houseless persons who are living in residential housing programs, domestic violence shelters, or hotels or motels) and those who are unsheltered (those who are living in spaces unintended for human housing, such as parks, roadways or cars).

Forbes stressed that people who are experiencing homelessness cannot be identified by their appearance or behavior, adding that a study out of San Bernardino, California, found that about 60% of panhandlers are not currently houseless.

Among the many misconceptions around homelessness is that it’s a problem that can be solved with police enforcement or intervention. While unemployment, domestic violence, mental health, drug misuse and other issues are common factors contributing to homelessness, some simply choose to live that way.

“I don’t think it’s a resolvable issue. We just have to address it,” Forbes said.

His suggestion is that the city create a coalition of community stakeholders who can work together to find solutions on a case-by-case basis, connecting those who are experiencing homelessness with the resources and services that can help them find stable housing.

Forte hopes that social services agencies, religious and charitable organizations, community members, elected and city officials, police leadership and other advocates for those who are houseless can come together to address the need.

“I know it’s not a simple problem, but I’m glad that it’s one that we’re really taking seriously and moving in the right direction on,” Councilmember Hillary Shields said.

The committee members agreed that a coalition seems like a good solution to pursue, though no formal action was taken.

Councilmember Diane Forte, the committee’s chair, suggested that she and the vice chair (Councilmember Fred DeMoro) work with the mayor and city staff to begin creating a group of stakeholders as quickly as possible. She asked that the presentation be shared directly with the full council rather than waiting to have a second discussion at a future council session, advocating instead for reaching out to potential stakeholders right away.

“This is a big step, and I don’t want to take too long to take it,” Forte said.

All four committee members (Councilmembers Forte, DeMoro and Shields and Mayor Pro Tem Beto Lopez) were present for the Nov. 11 meeting.