Every single day, hundreds of children in Kansas City and throughout the country wake up on a motel room floor. They brush their teeth in the same sink that serves as the kitchen sink. And step onto a school bus in front of their motel room; the same bedroom that serves as their home.
John Wiley, a Kansas City pastor and real estate developer, is very familiar with this scene. At 15, he found himself living in a motel for several years.
Thirty years later, John witnessed a school bus pick up a load of children at the rundown, pay-by-the-week Crown Lodge Motel along 350 Highway in Kansas City Missouri. It triggered the memories of the embarrassment, humiliation and trap of homelessness he felt all those years earlier. He realized he needed to do something to help these families out of the trap of motel living. This is a hidden homeless population who lives right in our own backyard.
John’s heart for homeless families in Kansas City and his recollection of the pains of living in the one-room existence of a motel has compelled him to create a first-of-its-kind apartment complex for homeless families. River of Refuge was born.
He has worked every day over the past seven years to help working poor families find their way out of these motels and into safe, stable homes. The River of Refuge apartments officially open June 2, 2016 in a former hospital in Kansas City Missouri.
John’s journey is remarkable. It covers:
- how he found the dilapidated former hospital and began construction
- started the nonprofit and raised the money to buy the hospital
- met with the families weekly for more than a year to understand their stories and ensure he was doing exactly the right thing to help them
- And finally, opened these first 11 apartments to help transition families to stable housing
Today, River of Refuge is a five-year-old nonprofit supported by churches, individuals and businesses who have a heart for working poor homeless families in Kansas City. The first three families moved into the apartments in April 2016 (including a single dad with eight children pictured here) and the nonprofit will celebrate its official grand opening on June 2.
A few more facts about River of Refuge:
- River of Refuge demonstrates a community coming together to support Kansas City’s children who are living a terrible motel-room existence. Often times one “wall” away from prostitution and drug dealers.
- The River of Refuge program requires that every family must have a job to qualify to live in the apartments where they live for free and eat for free. They must save their own money in a weekly savings account and participate in financial counseling programs.
- The former Park Lane Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri has been repurposed into a transitional living facility for homeless families who live in motels or who are otherwise homeless. The old hospital sat vacant for 10 years with the roof decaying, trees growing out of it, gangs had taken residency and kids had come in and painted graffiti throughout. The construction project and cleanup was massive. The potential for additional units continues with six more floors.
- Homelessness for families in Kansas and Missouri has continued to rise in the past five years, while homelessness for individuals has declined. This has created an astonishing need for “shelter” space for homeless families (space that allows them to stay together) vs. individuals.