Program to aid homeless families adds apartments

rpulley@lsjournal.comApril 14, 2017 

When tornado warnings cause a stir, now the residents at the Lee’s Summit campus of Hillcrest Transitional Housing have a place to quickly find shelter.

The agency recently moved offices into a new $650,000 addition with a storm shelter underneath. Hillcrest also added two three-bedroom apartments, a demonstration kitchen, a community room and offices for counseling.

A May 10 ribbon cutting is planned.

Director Cotton Sivils said the structure with the new apartments and offices was erected on a vacant lot adjacent to the complex. “It’s the first building we’ve built,” he said. “We always took distressed properties and remodeled them.”

The agency had been using an apartment in one of its four-plexes for offices, counseling and a food pantry.

Several years ago, when Lee’s Summit was struck by a tornado, Sivils became concerned for residents’ safety because the apartments were on slabs and the organization didn’t have adequate emergency shelter.

He began negotiating for a vacant lot next door and planning for the expansion. Serendipity provided seed money for the project. A longtime volunteer and fundraiser for the agency, Julie Schulenberg of Independence, left her estate of $200,000 to Hillcrest. One of the rooms is being named for her.

“It’s an example of people having a huge impact, even if they have modest lives,” Sivils said.

Hillcrest Transitional Housing was started in 1976 by a couple who had been homeless, but were helped back onto their feet. Later in their lives, after they found success, they decided they wanted to do the same for others.

In 1997, the agency expanded to add its first affiliate, Hillcrest Transitional Housing of Eastern Jackson County. Other campuses were added.

In Lee’s Summit, Hillcrest bought several four-plexes in a quiet downtown neighborhood. It also operates a thrift store at 936 S.E. Third St. While raising money for operations of the agency, the store also provided $20,000 worth of home furnishings (at thrift store prices) to the graduates of its program.

Case Manager Lu Ann Ross said with the added space there is more opportunity for volunteers to work with residents. For example, a Girl Scout troop is planning on providing programming for children in a new play area, while adults are having their community meetings and learning sessions nearby. Also clients will have more privacy during individual counseling sessions.

The storm shelter is available 24 hours a day in the basement of the building. Residents have codes to the electronic lock, and they also have a much larger food pantry and an improved laundry.

“It’s wonderful,” Ross said. “It makes a big difference.”

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