Jessie Hayden was a little overwhelmed, but also profoundly thankful for the small army of volunteers who showed up Saturday to help paint her house, fix rotting wood eaves and clear nuisance trees from the yard.
“I can’t put into words how much I appreciate it,” said Hayden, 83, who has struggled with code violations at her home on East 67th Street in Kansas City. “It had to be the good Lord that brought them here.”
Hayden, who has lived in her home since the 1970s, is the first beneficiary of a new initiative dubbed “Love Thy Neighbor.” It teams city government and Municipal Court officials with churches, labor groups and other volunteers. It aims to help senior citizens who own their homes but don’t have the physical or financial wherewithal to address code violations that land them in court. They sometimes wind up with warrants that can even get them arrested.
“It’s a major concern. They just don’t have the means to be able to address it,” said 5th District City Councilwoman Alissia Canady, who helped spearhead the initiative. Canady and 5th District at-large City Councilman Lee Barnes have identified about $375,000 in city funds to start the program. From 25 to 28 elderly urban core homeowners may soon be able to take advantage of the program. Canady hopes even more can eventually benefit through volunteer labor and as new funding sources are identified.
Kansas City’s Municipal Housing Court already has a fund to assist low-income residents with code violations. The City Council had doubled that fund from $150,000 to $300,000 this year. But Hayden didn’t qualify because she also owed back taxes on her house. And the need citywide far exceeds the municipal court fund capacity.
Canady said she was helping Hayden get the back taxes paid. The Carpenters District Council of Kansas City and JE Dunn sent skilled workers to Hayden’s home during the week to get skilled prep woodwork done.
On Saturday, several dozen members of two churches, Paseo Baptist Church and City of Truth Church, swarmed over Hayden’s porch and back yard, hoisting chainsaws and paint brushes and giving everything a facelift.
“The Bible teaches us to love thy neighbor,” said Rev. Greg Ealey of Paseo Baptist, adding that he thanked Hayden for the chance to serve her.
City crews and even Housing Judge Todd Wilcher also helped out. Wilcher, whose job it is to sentence people with code violations, was up on a ladder helping to caulk under the gutters.
“This program is wonderful. It fills a gap,” Wilcher said, adding that he welcomed the chance to volunteer. He said this new city funding and volunteer work will assist seniors who for a variety of reasons don’t qualify for the municipal court fund.
Many of the homes require thousands of dollars of work. Hayden’s house still needs expensive concrete work to rebuild front steps and a leaning retaining wall. That project still needs to be bid and will be paid for by the Love Thy Neighbor Fund.
Another volunteer Saturday was Shawn Kirkwood, the Housing Court diversion coordinator, who helps violators resolve their cases. He said churches or people wishing to volunteer with the program or senior citizens trying to get help through the program can contact him at 816-513-9054 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Saturday, neighborhood leader Marquita Henry gave Hayden a hug and said she was gratified to see all the help. Henry, president of the Foxtown West Neighborhood Association that includes Hayden’s block, said too many of her neighbors subsist on less than $12,000 a year and have to decide between buying food and medicine or fixing their homes.
“This is a good program,” she said. “The city is trying to help these people.”