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Forty Years Of Hope – reStart

It’s really quite simple. Homelessness is defined as the lack of permanent housing. That means no roof, no electricity, no running water, no heat, no security, no place to put the keys – because no keys exist. The condition of homelessness has been a challenge throughout Kansas City’s history. The onset of a pandemic has created a homelessness crisis that has not been seen for generations. Since 1981, reStart has been addressing the issue, and its mission is, “to empower all people facing or experiencing homelessness by providing housing and services that inspire hope.” 

Street Outreach Team Member Brittny conducted street outreach to individuals in the park, providing them with a bag of snacks and hygiene items.
reStart’s main shelter is located at 918 East 9th Street in Kansas City, Missouri.

Celebrating its 40th anniversary, it seems apropos that the slogan for this robust organization is “Fight Forward. Adopt reStart.” According to Stephanie Boyer, CEO of reStart, fighting is exactly what she and her staff are doing. They are fighting the bureaucracy of solving homelessness; fighting to solve the exponentially growing problem of homelessness; fighting to steel themselves for the unaccompanied minors who come to the door. The last year-plus has been devastating and heart-wrenching for those who work with this vulnerable population. But they have not given up hope. 

The staff and volunteers of reStart have dug in, put on the figurative gloves, and are ready to fight, but they need help. During their anniversary, they are asking the citizens of Our Town to do four things: give the much-needed dollars for programming and assistance; donate items needed in shelters (towels, blankets, personal items, etc., check restartinc.org for details); volunteer time; and advocate in the Kansas City area. reStart is challenging individuals, large companies, religious organizations, and small businesses to jump on board and help them with the fight. 

Tyler, kitchen staff member; prepared to serve breakfast for the residents.
Rita, director of youth and family services, spent time getting to know a resident.

What will reStart do with the philanthropic contributions of others? Let’s start with the numbers. In 2019, reStart provided 165,922 bed nights, 65,365 meals, 2,994 individuals and families served, 593 housing units found – all through 12 locations of assistance. There are 17 programs designed to fight homelessness. Every day these efforts provide hope and help, and they include: youth emergency shelter, youth transitional housing, family services; veterans’ support services, health care for homeless veterans, single adult emergency shelter, street outreach, wraparound services, permanent housing, and rapid rehousing. 

Because the issue and the solutions are so complicated, Stephanie broke down what she really wants the community to understand:

  • reStart serves every community in our metropolitan area. There is no other organization with such comprehensive services to alleviate homelessness. 
  • Pre-COVID-19, reStart fielded maybe five calls/visits per day. Since the beginning of the pandemic, they have been averaging 25 calls/visits per day. 
  • The homeless population was previously comprised mostly of single men. Now, families and unaccompanied youth present as the majority. 
  • Lost jobs, lost homes, lost transportation, lost hope – all prove to be incredibly challenging to solve for a family in crisis. 
  • The organization addresses and provides resources for mental health issues, transportation, keeping children in schools, pregnancy emergencies, social work case management, hunger, and emergency shelter. 
  • There has never been a quick, easy answer to the issues. 

Stephanie exudes hope and frustration at the same time. Her ideal world would have housing units available for immediate occupancy spread all across the metro area. “There are a lot of personal issues with people experiencing homelessness, and it is not ideal to just throw everyone in the same location – each person’s problems become others’ problems when housed together. What we need is a variety of kinds of housing so that homes are close to jobs or schools or resources.” She is frustrated with the length of time required and the paperwork involved in HUD-assisted housing. Wanting to work with urban planners and create fast-working tax incentives, she is ready to roll up her sleeves and get to work. 

Hope shines through Stephanie’s eyes when she talks about the very creative programming the organization is launching right now. reStart University is designed to reach groups of people and create advocates and ambassadors. Via a virtual platform, groups can access either a series of classes or one summary class to educate employees, worshippers, schools, and more about how to help reStart. She has a tremendous amount of experience with this vulnerable population, and she understands that no one is immune to homelessness. But, the key is working one-on-one, neighbor to neighbor to create the awareness to begin to resolve the problems. Hope allows Stephanie and the reStart staff to keep creating the paths to the joy of actually handing over the keys to a family seeking a roof, a bed on which to lay a child, a home.  

Also featured in the March 20, 2021 issue of The Independent
Photo Credit: Rachel Cohen

By Anne Potter Russ

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