As temperatures are expected to drop to the negatives over the next few days, homeless and housing insecure Johnson Countians may be looking for a place to warm up. And that could be complicated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
A recent United Community Services of Johnson County survey found more than 30,000 residents live in poverty, but there aren’t many places for those who need help getting or staying warm to go within the county.
Community centers and churches normally serve as warming centers in cold times, but COVID-19 related restrictions have put a stop to most of those this winter.
Critical need when temperatures drop
Barb McEver, founder of one of the only cold weather shelters for single adults in Johnson County, Project 1020, said she recognizes the current temperatures as “the kind of weather people freeze to death in.”
“I’m speechless when I try to explain to somebody that this county doesn’t have anything, any kind of [daytime] warming center… we’ve got empty buildings all over the place,” McEver said. “When you’re talking about people’s lives, I can’t believe that we’re not putting something together.”
Project 1020 is an overnight shelter, and its staff members are currently trying to direct people to various places — really any place — they can stay warm. This includes sheltered bus stops, fast food restaurants and convenience stores.
The Merriam Community Center, 6040 Slater Street, is also currently operating as a designated warming center during regular daytime hours of operation.
Other cities’ community centers may not be officially designated as warming centers, but they won’t necessarily turn people away either.
“We are not a designated warming center, but we are open to the public,” said Sid Hanson, manager of Matt Ross and Tomahawk Ridge Community Centers in Overland Park. “If somebody wanted to come in and get out of the cold, they could do that.”
When contacted Thursday, county officials said a warming center discussion was ongoing, but they did not have details at this time.
Johnson County Libraries are also not designated warming centers due to COVID-19 at this time, as branch hours and services have been reduced.
Guests can still visit any of the 14 locations to use a computer or browse for materials, though computer sessions are limited to 70-minutes.
Computer sessions can be renewed multiple times as long as there is no waitlist. Hours can vary by location, and can be determined online here or by phone at (913) 826-4600.
While Johnson County may not have a specific collection of warming centers, the Salvation Army has several options in the greater Kansas City metro.
Here is a list of Salvation Army warming centers that are either in or near Johnson County for those who may need assistance staying warm:
- Merriam Community Center, 6040 Slater Street, open seven days a week.
- Olathe Community Center, 420 E. Santa Fe Drive
- Blue Valley Community Center, 6618 E. Truman Road, Kansas City, Missouri
- Eastside Community Center, 3013-17 E. 9th Street, Kansas City, Missouri
- Kansas City, Kansas Community Center, 6723 State Avenue, Kansas City, Missouri
- Northland Community Center, 5306 N. Oak Trafficway, Kansas City, Missouri
- Westport Community Center, 500 W. 39th Street, Kansas City, Missouri
Leah Wankum contributed to the reporting for this story.