As a single father of eight children, Mario Glynn of Kansas City lived in constant fear and desperation.
He didn’t have a job. His car needed repairs. And his family was homeless, staying in the living room of a friend’s one-bedroom apartment.
“It was like I was running on a treadmill and not getting nowhere,” Glynn said. “Things were always falling apart — constantly. People didn’t keep their word or nothing.”
But in early May, those fears dissipated. Glynn and his children became the first people to move into a furnished apartment offered by the nonprofit River of Refuge.
“It’s the main reason I still have my kids today,” said Glynn, who has repaired his car and found a warehouse job in Olathe.
Since its founding in 2009, River of Refuge has been converting the old Park Lane Hospital at 5151 Raytown Road in east Kansas City into temporary lodging for homeless families.
The organization opened the first of 11 finished apartments last month. To celebrate its grand opening, River of Refuge will have an open house from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday.
Four families now live at River of Refuge. That is the current capacity because of staffing limitations cause by limited funding.
When Glynn heard River of Refuge was helping homeless families, he was skeptical. He didn’t think he would qualify or if he did, it would fall through.
“I had 99 percent of things that were supposed to be sure things fall apart,” Glynn said. “I didn’t believe it until we got in here.”
Once they moved in, Glynn said, he was finally able to relax. He slept for the whole day.
“It was a relief once I got in here and realized it was true,” he said. “I was too tired to get excited.”
Hearing that caused River of Refuge founder John Wiley’s eyes to tear up.
“To me, there’s nothing that brings more restoration or wholeness to a person than a sense of well-being and peace,” he said. “To know that a dad can have some peace or sense of well-being, I think it’s going to make him a better father.”
Wiley, a former pastor who once was homeless and lived in a motel, started River of Refuge as a way to provide temporary housing for poor families. He routinely drove past the shuttered and decaying former Park Lane Hospital and one day got the idea to convert its rooms into apartments.
The organization bought the building in 2009 and started on its seven-year journey to where it could begin using it for housing.
“It’s been a long haul — didn’t realize it would take this long,” Wiley said.
One reason rehab took so long was the condition of the building. It was in rough shape after being vacant for 10 years. It had been heavily vandalized. It needed new roofing.
Fundraising also took longer than expected, partly because people were being asked to give to something still just a vision.
“It’s easier to raise money when you’re giving to a face, a family, a name, a story,” Wiley said. “But when you’re raising money for a dilapidated building that one day people think might open … it feels risky.”
The organization is seeking funds to hire a case manager, which would allow for the other finished apartments to open.
The organization then will look for funding to renovate other floors of the former hospital.
The apartments come with furniture, including beds, and a refrigerator, a microwave, pots, pans and linens.
“We try to provide the basic necessities to make them feel like that is their home,” said Stephanie Keck, executive director of River of Refuge.
The organization also provides food. Each week, families use the on-site food pantry to restock their kitchens with nonperishable food.
The nonprofit also provides toiletries, including razors, deodorant, hair conditioners, baby wipes and diapers — items that can eat into a family’s budget.
By covering those items, families are given a breather that allows them to put money toward paying off debts or saving for their first month’s rent or deposit on a new place.
“We help them with life skills, with budgeting and various on-site services so they can learn possibly what it was to cause them to become homeless and help prevent them from doing so in the future,” Keck said.
The housing is only temporary, and the length of stay is tailor-made for each family — a typical stay is expected to be six months.
“It’s a relatively short time because families need just a little bit of help to get them healed up,” Wiley said. “It doesn’t take much to help these families.
“Remember, they have jobs. They go to work each day. They just need a little bit of help to get out of this precarious situation they are in.”