On a cold, snowy night at an old school that’s now a church in Old Town Lenexa, things are pretty quiet.
From Pflumm Road, Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church doesn’t look much different than it did last week, when it was in the middle of a lawsuit with the city of Lenexa over operating a homeless shelter.
Even the corridors look empty, except for the occasional sleepy-eyed person heading to a real bed, perhaps for the first time in weeks.
Lenexa has since allowed the church to begin operating a temporary cold weather homeless shelter in conjunction with Project 1020, an Olathe-based organization. Since opening Saturday, they have housed nearly 20 people.
“Olathe has a shelter for dogs and cats, but nothing for single adults,” said Vicky Carson, a Project 1020 volunteer from Olathe. “We are thrilled to be here today serving people who would otherwise be out in the snow.”
The shelter at the church has 30 beds — 10 in each of three classrooms — as well as separate rooms for dining and storage. The additional space and privacy for guests have already made a difference.
“I’m just in awe of how they embraced Project 1020 and have been willing to come to bat for people in Johnson County that are experiencing homelessness, and to try to do something to bring more awareness to the need,” said Barb McEver, co-founder of Project 1020.
The guests at the shelter have many reasons why they are experiencing homelessness. Here are a few of their stories:
- Todd Wilson had been living out of his vehicle since October 2018, staying in parking lots in Overland Park and Olathe. He’s working at Olathe Ford now and saving up so he can keep making payments on his car and medicine for diabetes.
- Darryl Barancik overdosed on his medicine while he deals with grief from the death of his wife. He’s trying to start his life over. “It’s a God-send,” he said.
- Luella Hanson is trying to get back home to Lubbock, Texas, after her car crashed in the snow a few nights ago on I-35. She couldn’t afford a motel room.
Nick Earlenbaugh, an almost lifelong Shawnee resident, needed a temporary place to stay while he works through a legal matter and a family dispute. Wednesday night will be his third night at the shelter.
“This is the first time I’ve gone to a shelter, and I’m impressed, I really am,” Earlenbaugh said. “There was food when I got here, and a bed. It was pretty cool.”
Earlenbaugh first realized that homelessness was an issue in Johnson County about a decade ago, when he saw about 15 people under a bridge near Turkey Creek and I-35 with their backpacks and sleeping bags.
“I don’t think it gets noticed very much,” he said. “There’s people that are homeless for a lot worse reasons and don’t have a place to go. I’m just thankful that this is here for right now.”
It’s made a difference for volunteers, too. Sarah Barth, another volunteer from Olathe, said volunteering the past year has changed her life and made her a better human.
“The people that Project 1020 serves come to us at their lowest,” Barth said. “We have the privilege of getting to know them, hearing their stories and earning their trust. These individuals are just like everyone else. They long to be loved, to be accepted and to be in the company of others.”
The shelter is in need of winter clothing, particularly hoodies in larger sizes, and socks and underwear, as well as cellphone chargers, disinfectant wipes and bottled water.