Podcast: Expanding Housing Options for the Unhoused Community with Brian Platt, Kansas City, MO

Posted on April 23, 2021


Brian Platt - GovLove

Brian Platt

Brian Platt
City Manager
City of Kansas City, Missouri
LinkedIn Bio | Twitter


The Land Bank Dollar Sale. Brian Platt, City Manager for the City of Kansas City, Missouri, joined the podcast to talk about the Land Bank Dollar Sale. He shared other creative things the City is doing to expand housing options for the unhoused community. Brian discussed starting a new Housing Department within the City. He also shared lessons learned while working with the unhoused community and the next steps for others looking to start this work.

Host: Kirsten Wyatt

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Episode Transcription

Kirsten Wyatt  00:12

Coming to you from Portland, Oregon, this is Gov Love, a podcast about local government. Gov Love is produced by ELGL, the Engaging Local Government Leaders network, we engage the brightest minds in local government. I’m Kirsten Wyatt, the ELGL Co-Founder and Executive Director and today I’m joined by Brian Platt, the City Manager of Kansas City, Missouri. Brian, welcome back to Gov love.

Brian Platt  00:36

Thank you so much for having me back.

Kirsten Wyatt  00:39

Today, we’re talking about how Kansas City is working to house the unhoused in the middle of a pandemic. But first, let’s get started with a lightning round. So what is your most controversial non political opinion?

Brian Platt  00:53

I would say here in Kansas City, it’s what my favorite barbecue places and I’m not even going to admit it on this podcast.

Kirsten Wyatt  01:00

I was gonna, I thought you were going to, and I was going to stop you and just say, Brian, like, don’t end your career so early.

Brian Platt  01:06

I have been instructed never to answer that question. I did it once. And it was a mistake.

Kirsten Wyatt  01:10

Oh, no. Okay, good to know. What is your public meeting pump up song? Or the song you listen to when you’re getting ready for a big public hearing?

Brian Platt  01:19

Pass.

Kirsten Wyatt  01:20

Why? You have to, if you, you wouldn’t tell us your barbecue, you have to tell us your song.

Brian Platt  01:29

I you know, I’m in a little bit of a you know, 90s boy band thing right now, I’d say so I just throw on Pandora, a little Backstreet Boys, a little NSYNC. And, you know, it just it just gets me in the mood. It’s a distraction, because I’m like, oh, I remember this song from some time ago.

Kirsten Wyatt  01:44

You know, you could have Justin Timberlake Raman hair. If you work very hard at it. I think. 

Brian Platt  01:51

I know, there’s at least one person in your family that would support me growing my hair out again.

Kirsten Wyatt  01:57

That’s, sadly it’s so true. All right. And then if you woke up one morning, and you had different hands, how long would it take for you to notice that your hands were different?

Brian Platt  02:10

Honestly, I’m not even sure if these are my real hands right now. So probably a while.

Kirsten Wyatt  02:14

Okay. Oh my gosh, that’s that’s kind of the scariest answer to this question. It’s ranged from like, immediately to I would never notice. So. All right, and what food did you hate as a child, but now you enjoy as an adult?

Brian Platt  02:29

Tomatoes. I don’t think I had my first tomato until I was like 17 and I will now eat them raw in a handful. cherry tomatoes or something like that.

Kirsten Wyatt  02:41

Did you eat ketchup as a child?

Brian Platt  02:43

I did eat a lot of ketchup. It’s very strange. Ketchup was great. Tomatoes were not great. It made no sense.

Kirsten Wyatt  02:49

Got it. Alright, before we begin, a quick reminder to our listeners that ELGL Pop Up tickets are now on sale. We’ve created five regional agendas for you to choose from. Or you can select an all access pass and attend them all. The event is all virtual one day on May 21st. And tickets are $40. Sign up at ELGLPopUps.com. The theme this year is honoring essential local government workers, so that means that you should attend. So let’s get started. Brian, give us a refresher on your career path.

Brian Platt  03:24

Well, since the last time I was on the show in the podcast in 2018, a lot of things have changed. I was at the time I was I think I was just getting settled as the city manager for Jersey City, New Jersey since then, of course, as we’ve discussed, I’ve made the move out to Kansas City in Missouri, and picked up the family headed out here. And it’s been a very exciting transition. There are a lot of really interesting and unique challenges that Kansas City is facing. Although also very interestingly, and surprisingly, a lot of those challenges are similar, I think for all the listeners that are in local government here, you know, it, we all know that cities are not necessarily unique in the challenges that they face in general. It’s always the same general list of priorities. But you know, things are different based on the context in any neighborhood in any state in any region that you’re working in.

Kirsten Wyatt  04:19

How is the adjustment to the Midwest been? What are some things that you’ve noticed that are different and some things that that you’re enjoying?

Brian Platt  04:28

What we, we absolutely love it out here in the Midwest, the quality of life is fantastic. The energy and culture and excitement that we find in Kansas City is unparalleled. And what I think the biggest surprise for me working here for the city is how much land there is available. How much vacant land coming from the northeast, in one of the most dense and urban areas of the country. There are not a lot of Greenfield opportunities and they’re not even a lot of vacant pieces of property to work with. And here in Kansas City, it’s it’s one area after another and the sky’s the limit in a lot of these areas, it’s exciting to be a part of something where we can be building neighborhoods and building communities from the ground up and building new types of infrastructure and investments and, and opportunities for people from the ground up.

Kirsten Wyatt  05:23

As, as many of our listeners know, you know, ELGL and Kansas City have a long term love affair. Kansas City, you know, is widely regarded as one of the oldest and kind of most prestigious, you know, council manager forms of government in the country. What does that feel like kind of stepping into that legacy, stepping into that role, and following after, you know, so many big names in the profession?

Brian Platt  05:46

It’s certainly a rich tradition that I feel really great being a part of it, it is an honor and a privilege to be here, and I’m not taking this role lightly. I really am excited to be a part of it. There’s a lot of great history here and a lot of great success that we and I can build on moving forward. And it’s very evident in the in the way the city looks at this point all the great things that have been done here.

Kirsten Wyatt  06:09

So I need you to be honest, how many times have you stood in front of City Hall and replicated the LP Cookingham City Hall selfie?

Brian Platt  06:20

You know, I haven’t found myself with a ton of time to just be standing around outside City Hall. And when I am someone’s always walking up to me and asking me questions. So, I haven’t been out there that much. But yeah, it is it is certainly crossed my mind.

Kirsten Wyatt  06:34

Okay. Well, you need to set a goal, at least one by the end of your first year.

Brian Platt  06:38

Yep. Yep. Yep. 

Kirsten Wyatt  06:39

All right. So, switching gears tell us about the land bank dollar sale, what is it?

Brian Platt  06:45

This land bank dollar home sale that we’re doing is one of the new innovative initiatives we’re pursuing to address homelessness across the Kansas City, Greater Kansas City region, we’ve seen an exacerbated need for services and shelters, for those that are unhoused, across the City and across the region. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Of course, you know, the the pandemic has put two different types of stresses on our existing facilities and shelters, in that the capacity of those facilities has been greatly reduced because of social distancing. And more people are seeking those types of services and support because of the economic downturn and negative economic impacts as a result of the pandemic. So we turn around, you know, in in December and January, and we’re seeing now I’ll give you some of the backstory here, we’re seeing over the winter, this increased need exponentially increasing, having dramatic overflow at some of our sites. And we’re thinking about how we can better serve this population. And, and we’re in a crisis at this moment, we have literally people waiting outside in the cold at one of our warming shelters, and we say, to the team, you know, we need to, we need to think about the largest facility that we can possibly find to provide a resource, a warming center for for residents in need. And for people in need. We looked at our convention center, and we turn that into the region’s largest warming center. And the beauty of that facility was it we were able to consolidate all these smaller satellite facilities and individualized service centers into a single location, it allowed us to more efficiently provide services to larger groups of people in this one location. And community outreach was vastly improved and expanded as well, because it was much easier for people to go to one site. And and and serve meals or donate clothes or donate time or provide mental health services. So when we think about, you know, putting out the fire, that was sort of the first step in putting out the fire of the need there. And then the next step is, well, we need to find a way to create more housing for people in the city. And that’s housing across the lowest spectrums of income levels, and for those that are most vulnerable and most in need. Okay. So when we look at property across the city, we’re thinking about ways to just get people in homes. We have a land bank in Kansas City, thankfully, that has 111 vacant and abandoned homes on it. And we looked at this list of homes and said, well, let’s find a way to quickly turn these into affordable housing for both people at the lowest income levels at 30% AMI or less, and also for people who are who are homeless. And we are now just about to release an RFP actually, to do this, to sell these properties for $1 provided that the new owners create fully fully rehabilitate the property that they remediate any blight on on that property and also that they provide those homes to either someone who is currently homeless or someone and or Someone or families are multiple people who are at the lowest income levels. We think this is a really great incentive to convert these vacant homes, these blighted properties into things that will serve, better serve the community. This is only, oh, go ahead.

Kirsten Wyatt  10:15

I was gonna say, are the homes spread across Kansas City, are they primarily located in one part of the city? What’s kind of the geographic spread?

Brian Platt  10:24

The geographic spread is mostly on the east side of the city. That’s just because that’s, you know, for no reason, in particular on our end, that’s just where all these homes happen to be located. In the third and fifth districts, mostly, some of them are in the fourth district as well. Okay. That’s where these homes are located. There are other opportunities we’re pursuing in other neighborhoods as well.

Kirsten Wyatt  10:44

Got it, okay. And so the idea is that the housing is purchased for $1. And then it’s fixed up and it becomes a livable space, any sort of assistance that’s provided for all of those repairs or for the blight remediation?

Brian Platt  11:02

We are, we’re going to be flexible with the proposals that that we received. So we’re, we’re not saying we will or will not provide additional resources, we’re going to seek the responses and the requests and the need from the community. If, if one community group or potential property owner has a proposal that requires certain types of funding for certain types of things, we are happy to entertain that. We’re not necessarily putting a blanket number out there as far as the resources the City’s going to provide. And I also should note that what we’re asking of the new property owners is to ensure that wraparound services and any type of additional support that these new tenants will need be made available as much as possible on site, there are some community groups that we’ve spoken with already, that would turn some of these homes, which are, some of them are fairly large homes, which would turn some of them into not only multifamily houses or housing, but also some sort of on site support for not just the tenants of that new residence, but also for people in the community. It could be some kind of mental health clinic, it could be other types of social services that operate out of that facility as well. So it’s it’s it’s an impact, it’s a positive impact that will go beyond just the four walls of those new homes.

Kirsten Wyatt  12:22

And so what’s the next step after, you’re gonna issue this RFP, and then and then what’s going to happen?

Brian Platt  12:27

Yeah, that’s a great question. So I, there are a few other things that we’re working on as well that I’d like to dig into a little bit here. So that Landbank RFP is going to take us probably, you know, months before we’re getting these homes rehabilitated and ready for occupancy, there are other things that we’re working on as well, in order to better triage and, and and manage those in this unhoused community. One of the things we did a couple weeks ago was we managed to get hundreds of people off the streets out of these encampments across the city into hotel rooms temporarily, we have some counts put the number of encampments across the city, as add as many as 170 locations across the city where people have pitched tents, and their living living outside. Some of those encampments have only a couple of people in them. But this allowed us to get people off the streets come out of the encampments, and come into a hotel room where we can better coordinate and consolidate outreach and support with our existing service providers with local nonprofits with religious groups and anyone else who serves this community. And it’s been phenomenally successful, I’d say more so than we ever could have imagined because the the centralization of people in need is so evident, but also their space in these hotels that we’ve used, that allows for setting up common meal areas and and and setting up office space for people to triage anyone in the community that needs certain type of help. And it’s much, of course, much more efficient and go into 170 different locations during the day. We’re at over 300 hotel rooms at this point. And it’s it’s spread across right now around five or six different hotels of varying number of rooms in each of them. Some of the, a couple of the hotels in particular, we’ve basically taken over a couple of hotels and made them 100% available for for this type of thing. So what comes after that is is more more of the housing options for people more permanent, more transitional housing. One of the things that’s going to help us do this is the creation of a new housing department for Kansas City. Now this new, this new department is taking some existing operations and resources that we that we currently provide and adding new dedicated staffing and resources particularly in three new areas. One is for affordable housing creation and preservation making sure that we have inspectors and staff that are going out to make sure that any affordable housing we have right now is being maintained properly and that the rents are at the right levels and that sort of thing. But also that we’re pushing forward more policies and doing more to build more affordable housing. The second big piece of that is support for the unhoused community, exactly what we’re talking about now. We don’t have dedicated staff that handles and addresses these types of issues, to support our unhoused community. And we need dedicated people on the team to make sure that we’re responding and reacting as quickly as possible. And we’re also being proactive. And then the third big piece of it is tenant rights and tenant advocacy, making sure that anyone who’s a renter in this city, which is almost half of the city, has somebody to advocate for them on their behalf and to make sure that they’re getting all the basic needs. There are a lot of landlords out there and in any city across the country that aren’t supporting their tenants as well as they should. And we want to make sure that we’re putting resources to that. Some of the additional resources included there will be to, you know, set up a fund to help people pay their bills when they’re having difficulty doing so. The pandemic has provided, the the federal government has provided funds and resources in response to that. And I know many of us across the country are so grateful for that. But we’re going to set up something more permanent and more long term there as well. So that housing department is going to be the staffing arm and the resource arm of all this. It when we think about those new, more long term housing initiatives, there are two other projects that we’re working on as well, other initiatives, in addition to the land bank, dollar homes project, one is to build, to rapidly build transitional housing across the city, in a sort of dorms type structure. So we have something here in Kansas City, called the Tiny Homes project, it was created by veterans community project, it’s 49 Tiny Homes, ranging in size from around 240 to around 320 square feet. And inside these homes, everything is there that anyone would need to live independently, you’ve got a refrigerator, you’ve got a kitchen, you’ve got a bed, you’ve got power, all all the things just in a tinier setting. It’s, the other interesting thing they include, is on site that they’re, the 49 Tiny Homes, there’s a central sort of common area and office space that provides a lot of different types of services and support on site. You know, dentist, mental health services, job training, there’s a common kitchen, there’s common areas, and all that sort of stuff that that go that partners well with, with those homes. So our vision is very similar to this, except that the living quarters will be a little bit smaller, and we’re going to build a lot more of them. So we’re looking to build probably 150 or so homes or beds, I guess some of the homes can can hold multiple beds, depending upon some of the families that we have out there as well. And we’re we’re thinking, you know, the shelters that we can build with provide the basic needs and the basic necessities, the four walls, the heating system, the cooling system, bed storage, area, power, you know, whatever you need just to live comfortably with some of those other support systems on site as well laundry services, job training, all that sort of stuff. So that that transitional housing model, we’re hoping to deploy that the first location in a few weeks here,

Kirsten Wyatt  18:31

Oh wow, that’s exciting!

Brian Platt  18:31

Yeah, it’s going to hopefully, begin quickly. And there are some other cities we know that are that are looking along these lines as well. We’re getting away from what some other cities are doing. In this sort of manner of designating areas of the city where they will permit encampments and tents, we are actually going to build more permanent structures where people and give them to people as they need them. You can live there as long as you need until you get yourself on your feet or or or indefinitely if you think you need to. And we’re just going to make that housing available instead of having to resort to tents. And is, is that funding coming from solely the city? Or are you relying on kind of a variety of funding sources to make that happen? We are going to be relying on a few different sources, primarily funds from the federal government in the stimulus. Also federal funds through HUD, those are the two main sources that we’re going to use to fund this. There are some FEMA funds that are available and there are some other city funds that we’re going to likely dedicate to this over time. It’s something that you know, yes, this year is it is an anomaly of the year and we have we have a larger variety of funding sources available, but it’s something that we’re going to need to fund more permanently and more long term.

Kirsten Wyatt  19:52

Right. And for background, with your unhoused population, is that something where you’ve seen a spike in the last couple of years, like, like a lot of communities are reporting? Is it solely from the pandemic? Has this been something that’s been growing over time in Kansas City? You know, what kind of got you to this place where now was the time for action?

Brian Platt  20:14

Yeah, I would say the pandemic has certainly exacerbated this issue. Over over the last few months, even I think that there were certainly people out there that were doing an okay job getting through the beginning of the pandemic. And as the economic impacts worsened over time, and more people lost their jobs or missed a paycheck or two, it pushed them over the edge and onto the streets. Okay, and so that that has been a lot of the challenge. And and also, what’s interesting is, when we looked at our, our warming center operation, and we look at those people that are in the hotels right now, and in the encampments, there are plenty of people out there that have jobs and have a path forward and a direction they just need, they just have a couple of months of a transition or, or are just trying to get themselves back on their feet. And so some of these hotel rooms, the transitional housing, the other options we’re talking about, they may only need them for a few months, sure, until they can find their the next step. It’s just, you know, the fact that people are living so close to the edge of being able to afford their their housing bills and not afford them. That is the challenge. And that’s why we need to build more housing and more affordable housing in particular moving forward. One of the, one of the other really important initiatives that we’re working on is, as I just mentioned, building more affordable housing units, and specifically incorporating affordable housing into city development projects. So for example, we have a parking deck that we need to renovate in the downtown area of Kansas City. It’s Barney Allis Park, Barney Allis Plaza, it’s right next to the convention center. It’s in a very exciting part of town.

Kirsten Wyatt  21:55

Is it the one with library books painted on the side?

Brian Platt  21:58

Yes, yes. I think there might be some on the side. So So this, this parking deck is crumbling right now. And we’re looking at a 10s of millions of dollar project here to repair and rebuild it in many areas. We’re thinking about a project like this and saying, look, if we’re going to spend 10s of millions of dollars on this project, why not get additional community benefit from it, why not build a few 100 affordable housing units on top of this parking deck and incorporate them into that facility as a way to create more affordable housing units with a marginal cost increase to the project as itself. And And not only that, it opens up opportunity for people who need affordable housing in a different part of town, you probably wouldn’t be able to get private development to build affordable housing on this site, but for involvement with the city or some city managed projects.

Kirsten Wyatt  22:54

Sure. That’s so exciting. And again, a way to kind of capitalize on development that’s going to be happening anyway. And then be able to add a tremendous benefit on top of it literally.

Brian Platt  23:05

Absolutely. Absolutely.

Kirsten Wyatt  23:07

Talk to us about starting a new housing department. And, you know, the decision to to really focus an entire department on such an important issue and, and kind of the vision and the purpose that the department has. And again, kind of a similar question as before. But why now? And where do you see this going in the future?

Brian Platt  23:29

Yeah, great question. So there are a couple of reasons for starting this department. One is politically, we want to signal to the people of this city, that we’re very serious about these issues in these challenges, that housing, that affordable housing, that our unhoused population, that we’re serious to supporting anyone with challenges here in in the most possible degree that we possibly could. And and so the other challenge that we’re looking at there is that we don’t have dedicated staff handling some of the city’s most urgent and pressing challenges, homelessness and support of our unhoused community. These are very urgent issues that we’re facing, and they’re getting worse during this pandemic. So we’re doing what we can to set aside more resources and more staffing and more support for these types of issues. And what better way to do so than to create a standalone department that handles all of the housing issues end to end, there’s a lot of overlap between creating affordable housing and support for the unhoused community. There’s a lot of overlap between tenant’s rights and advocacy, and and creating affordable housing. There’s so much, there’s so many sort of, you know, synergistic partnerships within this department that it makes a lot of sense. I would also say in response to your question, why now, I would say why haven’t we done this already. And a lot of cities have this sort of thing, or at least some, you know, housing division or or some subset of city government that focuses on this and I know historically in Kansas City, we used to have one. It was consolidated into a different department. But it didn’t have all of the components and all the resources and all of the support that it needed. So this is a way for us to retool what we have, to set it aside, to focus on it very specifically, make it a priority and and provide it with everything that it needs to be successful.

Kirsten Wyatt  25:26

Often when we think about issues related to affordable housing, transitional housing, many of the programs you’ve talked about, there needs to be a significant effort around community buy in. So we don’t have nimbyism right out of the gate. As you’re, as you’re implementing these new programs, as you are trying to make sure that your community members in all aspects or all all areas of the city are aware and understand the need, talk to us about that effort, that engagement effort, that communications effort.

Brian Platt  26:00

This is, communication, I think, is one of the most important functions of city government, regardless of the operation or or, or the initiative that you’re putting forward, you can have the most innovative, most supportive, most positive program that you’re putting forward, if no one knows about it, or if they don’t understand it, you know, it’s gonna fall flat on its face. And so communication here is crucial. We’ve had so many discussions with people across the city who are angry, who are upset with things that we’re, we, we’re supposedly not doing. And we say to them, Look, we actually are doing these three or four things to meet the needs that you’re mentioning here in our conversation, and they’re surprised, they’re surprised to hear it and they’re saying, look, you know, I have people that need this service yesterday, please help me connect them with it. And so that, of course, it opens up our eyes to a big challenge of making sure that we’re getting the word out. And if you think about the challenges in the unhoused community, it’s it’s very likely that most of them are not reading the mayor’s tweets, or like picking up the local newspaper, the Kansas City Star, and reading about the things going on, there’s got to be a different way to reach them. And so what we have to do many times is literally go out into the community on foot or make some phone calls or show up at these encampments and talk to people. Thankfully, we do have a somewhat unified unhoused community across the city, we have a group called the houseless Union, which has been the spokesperson, spokes, the point of contact for for that community, and is doing a phenomenal job, doing outreach to all of the encampments across the city and to making sure that people know about the services and support where they are. To give you some perspective there, when we first made the decision to open up hotel rooms for the homeless community living on the streets, we were speaking with some leaders at an encampment that had been set up at City Hall. And then encampment had been at City Hall, I think, since I started this job back in December. And and so we were looking at this encampment and there were maybe only 15 or 20 people that were staying there. We said, Great, let’s get these 15 or 20 people into a hotel, and we’ll we’ll go from there. And next thing we know we’re at over 300 people after a few days. And and we were we were excited that we were getting that many people off the streets. But it shows it goes to show you that this this community, the best way to get to this community was to talk to them directly. And to have them do the outreach. They, the second we agreed to open up the hotel rooms, they spent the entire next three or four days visiting every single encampment with their familiar faces, which is important too, and telling people look, you can trust the city. This is what we’re doing, here’s why we’re doing it, here’s how it’s going to help. And they got all these people off the streets. And very quickly all these encampments cleared out. Something that I could never have personally done. I could have never walked up to all these encampments and said, Hey, I’m Brian, I’m the City Manager, come on, get get get in his van and go to a hotel, you know, it’s-

Kirsten Wyatt  29:03

Never try that.

Brian Platt  29:07

Right, right, exactly. So community engagement is crucial. And and I would say also that there’s no one right answer to how to best engage any community. Every community has their preferred method of contact and their point person and their group or their regular meeting or their meeting place or their message board or their Facebook group, whatever it’s going to be, you know, you have to try to leverage all of them.

Kirsten Wyatt  29:30

Right, right. So thinking across all of these programs, whether it’s the the dollar sale or transitional housing or the hotel program, what have you learned along the way that you wish you had known when you were getting started?

Brian Platt  29:47

I’ve learned a lot about the challenges that the unhoused community faces in Kansas City and also that there are plenty of resources, and and support groups and community groups and nonprofits that are out there doing a lot of this work every day. I think if there’s one thing I would say that I wish I had known was, who all of those groups are, and who was already doing this work, you know, not everyone who serves meals to the to the unhoused community tweets about it every day, or shows up in the, in the local newspaper. And, and that’s great in that they’re not objectifying people in need. But it’s also challenging when we try to find ways to provide support and services to people, we sometimes don’t know who’s already doing it. And we could much easier, in a much easier way, partner with those groups, rather than try to reinvent the wheel. So we definitely, you know, I’ll admit, we definitely were spinning our wheels in in January and December, trying to figure out things that we could be doing on the city side, not knowing that some people were already doing it. And it was helpful when we started to do things like set up our warming center, to hear people come out and say, Look, we’re doing this, this and this already, to know who was out there doing what and to better leverage the existing team on the ground. I think also, the one of the things that that has been important for us to know is that, you know, there’s, there’s certainly a stigma associated with the unhoused community, I think a lot of people across the country view them as people who are, who have mental issues, who have other health issues, who are addicted to drugs, and all of these negative associations with a community that for the most part is very much in need. And, and and looking for a way out and a way in to creating and building a self sustaining life for themselves. There are a lot of people out there who have families, there are a lot of kids out there, there are a lot of senior citizens out there who for one reason or another, couldn’t make ends meet for, you know, a short amount of time and they find themselves out on the street, they have nowhere else to go. And and it’s really important to not forget that these are all humans, these are all people no matter what their situation, no matter how they got to where they are, no matter what challenges and issues that they’ve had along the way, that they’re still people. And any one of us could end up there at any given point, no one sets out and wakes up in the morning and says, I want to live in a tent for the rest of my life, you know, or I want to get addicted to drugs or, or something like that, and not be able to hold a job. But you know, I think we have to have as a respons-we have a responsibility as city leaders to support everyone and anyone in our community and do what we can to make sure that people can live a happy and healthy life and and have and live a self sustaining life as well, an independent life.

Kirsten Wyatt  32:48

Talk to us about the relationship or the the work between the housing department and your police department.

Brian Platt  32:56

Yeah, there’s, you know, unfortunately, we do get a lot of police calls for service on homeless encampments. What we hope to do down the road is follow the lead of some other progressive cities and not have a police response to those types of things, but have some sort of other non emergency, not non police but emergency response. So instead of police officers in a in a police car in uniform showing up at a homeless encampment, we can send out leaders in our our homeless services community, we can send out social workers, we can send out healthcare providers, and we can send out staff in our housing department who can coordinate and connect those individuals with the services and tools that they need. And so that is certainly what we’re hoping for down the road.

Kirsten Wyatt  33:53

And thinking regionally. You know, obviously, there are many local governments, you know, located adjacent to where you are, how has, how have regional partnerships worked out so far? Are those still in development?

Brian Platt  34:08

They’re still in development. But I will say that we’ve had great conversations with our neighbors, neighboring municipalities, county governments, and even government entities on the Kansas side, as well, because yeah, you’re right, like homelessness doesn’t have a geographical limit to it. And these challenges exists in all of the neighboring areas. And it makes a lot of sense to consolidate our efforts into a single or a single location or single area to make sure that we can most effectively and efficiently provide services to the people that need them. So yeah, like every every small municipality of 10-30,000 people doesn’t need to set up their own transitional housing, or their own warming shelter or things like that. We are happy to do that and consolidate those resources in a partnership.

Kirsten Wyatt  34:58

Well, and you’re doing such interesting work with transportation and transportation alternatives in Kansas City, how does that play into some of the decisions where you locate transitional housing with some of the services? And how is your transportation plan aligning with your housing plan?

Brian Platt  35:17

Yeah, the transportation here has the KC ATA, the Regional Transportation entity here has been an incredible partner throughout this entire process, they have literally dedicated buses and shuttles to assist with these efforts, they’ve sent them to the warming center at the convention center. They’ve made them available when we’re trying to transport people from encampments to the hotels, they’ve been ready at a moment’s notice to help us with the existing transportation options that we have. We’re also looking to build some of these new housing options near or at transit hubs. And that is important because, you know, it’s, it’s there are some there are some people, the unhoused community that have cars, but many of them don’t. And that’s a big barrier to access opportunity for them to access jobs, access health care, to access social services. So both bringing those services to the locations that they live. And also making sure that we build them in areas that are transit, accessible, or transit adjacent. There are a couple of sites in particular that are literally at bus stops that we’re evaluating for some of the transitional housing. the Barney Allis Parking Plaza is, we’re actually looking to build a bus stop and facility there as well to make sure that it’s very accessible to transit in as many ways as possible.

Kirsten Wyatt  36:44

For our listener, who is hearing about all of this work, and all of these programs, who wants to get started, who wants to replicate one or more of them in their communities? What are some best next steps that you would recommend?

Brian Platt  36:59

You know, I would say it goes back to one of the questions you asked before about what did you wish you knew, in the beginning of this process, I would say do outreach to your local communities and your neighboring municipalities, because it’s very likely that there’s somebody out there doing this work that’s done the research, that has ideas with local context, that’s the important part that yes, you can you can find best practices from across the country, you can listen to this podcast and say Kansas City is doing really transformational things related to transitional housing. And we want to do exactly that. But it may not work in your municipality or with your local government, and something else may work much better that we are not even thinking about and that local context is really important. And it’s very likely that somebody on the ground has thought about some of these things or, or evaluated some options already. And that’s probably the best place to start.

Kirsten Wyatt  37:53

Great advice, anything else you’d like to share with us about your new housing department? And all of these innovative initiatives?

Brian Platt  38:01

Yeah, I think there’s there’s one, one other component here that’s important to note, which is what do you do after you give people access to affordable housing and, and access to any housing? The next step, of course, are those wraparound services, as we commonly refer them, you know, it’s the healthcare, it’s the social workers, it’s its job training, that sort of thing. But employment is is another big barrier for people to live self sustaining independent lives. And there are, as I mentioned before, there are quite a few people living on the streets that do have employment or have options for employment that they’re working on. But there are quite a few people that don’t. And there are there are sometimes reasons that preclude them or limit their options and, and opportunities. It could be that they’re ex felons. It could be that they don’t have proper ID. It could be that they have, you know, to be honest, they have they have a drug addiction problem and and they they need to deal with some of their urgent health needs first. But what we’re thinking about is, is there a way that we can provide even temporary employment opportunities for anyone in the unhoused community with the city, we’re thinking about ways where we could hire them directly to even something as simple as helping manage and secure some of these new transitional housing communities that we’re looking to build or, or providing other types of maintenance services on site. There are people that have skills and abilities that they may not be able to use for one reason or another, we can put them to work doing a lot of different things. We’re always looking to hire people in Kansas City, even during the hiring freeze that we have in the pandemic and the budget issues. There’s always something that we need somewhere. And so we’re working on finding ways to connect the dots there a little bit. There are also plenty of corporations and local business partners that have higher needs as well. And they are more than they have already reached out to us to try and coordinate some job fairs and hiring events to get employment opportunities for people in these communities.

Kirsten Wyatt  40:06

Such an important point to end today’s episode with and, you know, it doesn’t just stop when you provide these housing options and thinking ahead to the future and planning what’s next, you know, that makes, makes your work so important. So thank you for sharing that with us today.

Brian Platt  40:22

Of course, of course. Thanks. Thanks for the time. This was great. I always have a lot of fun talking to you.

Kirsten Wyatt  40:26

Good, good. Well, I do have one last question. If you could be the Gov Love, DJ, what song would you pick as our exit music for this episode? 

Brian Platt  40:37

Oh, man. 

Kirsten Wyatt  40:38

If you want to pick a boy band, I mean, I know you want to, if you want to pick a boy band, that’s fine. We’ll, we’ll mock you behind your back, but but we’ll, enjoy it.

Brian Platt  40:45

Well, is this gonna make the recording right now?

Kirsten Wyatt  40:48

It will, it’s the song, it’s the song that we end on. So I mean, no pressure, but it just kind of makes the whole episode.

Brian Platt  40:54

Alright. Alright, I’m gonna go with like a, you know, like a boy band, but like sort of lesser known. Okay. Mr. Big, Mr. Big – To Be With You. I think that’ll be a fun one. I think people will like hearing that for the first time in 20 years.

Kirsten Wyatt  41:08

Got it. Got it. I may have karaoked that song at the last ELGL conference. So I’m here for it, I’m here for it. And honestly, no one knew the song and so it made me even more foolish. So that’s thank you for validating. Brian, thanks for spending time with us. And most importantly, thank you for your leadership in Kansas City and, and for sharing some of the things that you’re working on.

Brian Platt  41:35

Thank you so much again, and I’m really excited to be back on the podcast.

Kirsten Wyatt  41:40

This ends our episode for today. Gov Love is produced by a rotating cast of ELGL volunteers. ELGL is the Engaging Local Government Leaders network. You can reach us at ELGL.org or on Twitter @GovLovePodcast. Thank you for listening. This has been Gov Love, a podcast about local government.

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