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Homeless in KC: ‘We’re people too, and we deserve to be heard. We deserve to be seen’

Black and white photographs lining the walls of Kansas City’s Arts Asylum on Thursday typify what it’s like to live without a home.

Outdoor camps and makeshift beds on the street. An advertisement at a 7-Eleven for a Big Gulp beverage with “NO Panhandling” added to the corner of the sign.

Other photos depict scenes of everyday life: a man jogging past Crown Center. A crowd at a parade downtown. A photo of Sluggerrr, the Royals’ mascot.

The photographers, 12 in all, are all homeless and living in Kansas City.

“These are the things that people see every day when they’re homeless,” said Kim Gile, who helped organize the team of photographers.

The photos were the backdrops Thursday for a report on the latest count of homelessness in the Kansas City area. The report contained some good news: There were 68 fewer homeless households and 28 fewer homeless individuals this year, according to data collected for the annual “Point in Time” count, which is conducted through the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Each year, volunteers spend two days visiting shelters, outdoor camps, churches, libraries and streets talking to homeless adults and children to collect the data. The survey helps the city figure out which parts of town need the most help.

This year, there were 1,671 homeless individuals and 1,248 homeless households.

The numbers have been fairly consistent over the last three years, but the drop is encouraging, said Evie Craig, the president and CEO of reStart Inc.

“We look at the numbers, and I say to the community, ‘This is manageable. We can do this,’ ” she said.

Before the presentation, video interviews of the photographers played. One photographer, John King, said he wanted the viewers to know how hard it is to be homeless.

“Not all homeless people are drunks or addicts or the refuse of society,” King said. “I want them to come away with a sense that we’re people too, and we deserve to be heard. We deserve to be seen.”

The video was put together as a way to explain the photos, which are part of a pop-up exhibit called “Indisposable,” sponsored by the Kansas City Public Library. The 12 photographers were given a brief training by Mike Sinclair, a local photographer and professor at the University of Kansas. Then they were given disposable cameras and told to take snapshots of their everyday lives.

“It’s designed to build empathy and to create some awareness around homelessness in Kansas City, because it is an issue, and we’re working on it constantly as a community,” Gile said.

Craig attributed this year’s drop in homelessness to a healthy economy and a community effort to slash the number. A drop in homeless veterans was noteworthy, she said.

There were 46 veterans without a permanent home, and just 11 were “street homeless.” That low number is because of a “functional zero” initiative, Craig said. For the past three years, volunteers have compiled a list of each homeless veteran and worked with the community to find them permanent homes.

Adults made up the majority of the city’s homeless population: 70 percent. Eight percent were between the ages of 18 and 24, and 22 percent were children under the age of 18.

This year, the count included homelessness in both Jackson and Wyandotte counties. It’s the first time results from two states have been combined.

But there is more work to be done, Craig said. She hopes the city will be able to bolster the number of emergency shelters for youths in the coming year.

“We know that we do not have sufficient emergency shelter inventory,” she said. “We will place people in permanent housing as we increase the inventory.”

Craig said she’s hopeful moving forward.

“You feel this sense of despair when the numbers are just overwhelming,” she said. “But I think we have felt for a long time in this community that this is a manageable number.”

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