River of Refuge newsletter, September 2023

Police Use Old Hospital Tower to Train for Hostage Rescue

Kansas City police officers inspect a door as part of a hostage rescue exercise they conducted last month in River of Refuge’s old hospital tower. Dimensions of the door help determine the amount of explosives officers will use to breach the door without hurting the victim, suspect, or the officers on the scene.

Long-range plans for the River of Refuge campus call for renovating the former five-story hospital tower into affordable apartments and social service offices.

Yet it’s dark and cluttered now — serving as something of a time capsule to late 20th-century medicine — so there’s no harm in sustaining a little damage in the name of public safety.

That explains the heavy presence of Kansas City police officers at the tower on a Monday afternoon in mid-August. Members of a tactical response team were there to practice breaching doors with explosives in a simulated hostage rescue.

“A lot of times situations like this occur in commercial structures so it’s a good way to train for reality for what we might actually face,” said the sergeant on hand with the team. The extra sturdy doors in the old hospital tower help the officers train for the worst-case scenario.

Using “older structures like this that are in disrepair” is appreciated, he said, “so we can damage the door, damage the wall a little bit … and it doesn’t ruin a nice new building that is currently operational.”

One time the team trained in an old funeral home that was to be torn down the next week, the sergeant said, “So we could do as much damage as we wanted to it.”

The tactical response team has trained at the tower several times.

River of Refuge Executive Director Pam Seymour said Kansas City officers were well acquainted with the building. Staff called them frequently to report vandalism, theft, and squatters.

Seymour was happy to oblige their request to train in the building.

She said it’s a great way for River of Refuge to build awareness among police officers so they know about the program when they encounter homeless people. She also hopes the non-confrontational presence of police makes an impression on River of Refuge families, who might have had negative interactions with law enforcement in the past.

Seymour looks forward to the refurbishment of the old tower, but in the meantime, she said, “We don’t need those doors, and if (officers) can gain skillsets to better help people in crisis, then that is great. I am glad that we can be a part of that.”


ROR Announces Gala, Other News


River of Refuge has set Thursday, Nov. 2 as the date for this year’s Eat, Drink and Be Giving Gala. We are holding the event at Grand Street Cafe, 4740 Grand Ave. in Kansas City, Missouri, from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

For more information, please go to our registration page.

Funds raised through the gala help us deliver on our mission of empowering working-poor families with financial security through interim housing.

Adopt a Family

The stringent budgeting practices we teach our families do not include gifts for children, and each year we are so thankful for the support we get from the community in helping our young ones enjoy the holidays. Please consider participating in our adopt-a-family program this year to provide gifts to ROR kids. We will have more information in next month’s newsletter.

To sign up, call 816-737-5100 or email Jacki at our office for details (jacki@riverofrefuge.com).

Board of Directors

We very much appreciate the time and energy our volunteer board of directors devote to River of Refuge. The board recently elected new officers. They are:

  • President: Amelie Ballinger
  • Vice President: Nancy Anderson
  • Secretary: Timmy Hensel
  • Treasurer: Tyler Peterson


Family Nights Feature Foam, Snacks

Someone That Cares hosts Family Nights featuring foam and snacks
Thanks to the group, Someone That Cares, our families enjoyed an evening of food and (good, clean) fun this month, with foam machines being the hit attraction for kids and adults.

The ROR night managers also hosted a movie night this month for our families, featuring cheese dip, salsa, chips, and of course, popcorn. We don’t have any pictures from movie night, but trust us, it was a box-office smash.

From The Director

With the holiday season approaching, I intended to write about Thanksgiving this month.

But I changed my mind after hearing sirens outside our house at 7 in the morning one day last week. My husband went outside as our dogs barked themselves into a frenzy, and from our front porch, I saw neighbors in their driveways watching the scene unfolding in the house across the street.

We are dear friends of the couple that lives there, and my heart sank when the medics wheeled out an ashen, unconscious patient. When I went inside the house, the husband told me he had found his wife unconscious in her recliner.

As he readied himself to go to the hospital, a neighbor I had never met offered to take the couple’s dog out for a walk. Having no luck locating the missing cat, I went home to get ready for work and await an update from the husband. He left a message later that day that she had passed.

Later in the day, I attended my second Zoom mediation session with four college students who were caught trespassing in the former hospital tower that is on our campus. The mediator opens each call by asking us to rank how we feel on a scale of 0 to 10. My ranking has been pretty high in the past, but I gave it a 5 that day.

The mediator also asked each of us to describe the meaning of community, which has always been an easy question for me to answer, as someone who works in social services.

But on that call, I expanded on my response by mentioning the neighbor — a complete stranger — who had stepped in to walk the dog earlier that morning. The woman stopped by later to see how our neighbor was doing and was shocked that she had died.

“I’m glad I didn’t send the get-well card I bought this morning,” she said.

What I am getting at is that the death of our friend and neighbor was a hard reminder that tomorrow isn’t promised. We need to be kind to each other every day, be involved in our community, and be THANKFUL for all that we have.

RIP dear Sandy!

Until Next Time,
Pamela Seymour, Executive Director