Helping the homeless: Women come together to help build center

When someone says the word “homeless,” do you ever picture a young, single woman? On any given night in Kansas City, more than 500 single, homeless women reportedly seek shelter but find none.
In 2010, the Hotline for the Homeless reported only 64 beds were available for women citywide (today there are 67). With the severe lack of services available, these women — many of them dealing with mental illness, substance abuse or both — turn to unthinkable means to provide for their most basic needs.  
Many of them have lost their children because of their situations. Many are haunted by unforgettable memories of childhood abuse. None of these women ever dreamed they would find themselves on the streets. Women like Mary*, a single, homeless woman whose troubles began when she was 5 years old. Mary was repeatedly molested by an older brother who threatened to kill her if she told their mom or dad. The abuse continued for years as her shame and confusion mounted. By age 13, she began using alcohol she found in her dad’s liquor cabinet to mask her pain.
Mary became a teenager with serious issues. Without ever knowing the real source of those issues, her parents threw her out of the house at age 15. Left to fend for herself, Mary went with any man who claimed he would take care of her. The not-so-sweet 16-year-old girl with no self-worth began to prostitute herself in exchange for drugs, food and a place to sleep.  
Now at age 26, Mary has accepted life on the streets and prostitution as her “normal.” Had she seen a mental health professional, Mary likely would have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a treatable mental illness. A diagnosis like this combined with substance abuse is referred to as a dual diagnosis. Mary’s special needs make her difficult to serve and many shelters are not staffed or equipped to deal with her unique situation.
Soon single, homeless women will find a new refuge of safety and hope. Kansas City Rescue Mission Women’s Center, slated to open September 2012, will be solely dedicated to helping women like Mary. The center will be staffed by women who understand the complex issues related to dual diagnoses and can help women navigate a course back to a new “normal” — one with dignity, independence and joy.
“This is an incredible opportunity for the women of Kansas City to use their gifts and talents, their time and resources, to reach out to single, homeless women who truly don’t have the resources to take care of themselves,” explains Julie Larocco, KCRM’s chief development officer.  “This is about women helping women: women who can, for women who can’t.”
Each woman arriving at the one-acre Women’s Center campus will meet and work with a counselor and case manager to address housing, health, educational and spiritual challenges. Some may need only a few nights of refuge from the streets. Others may need a long-term residential program as they struggle to overcome addiction, balance medication and learn life skills that will enable them to live healthy, independent lives. 
The 20-bed, ADA-friendly facility will be equipped with a commercial kitchen, community and dining area, meeting rooms for counseling or visits with family, a classroom, sleeping areas and restrooms, and a clothing closet.
“I am so honored to be a part of this,” says Terri Bennett, the center’s director. “I am excited to share my passion and vision with the Kansas City community as we reach out together to help hurting women who feel they are without hope and resource. I truly believe we are going to give freedom and hope to single, traumatized, mentally ill, addicted and homeless women.”
* name changed
Kansas City Rescue Mission will host Women for Restoration, a fundraising luncheon to benefit the new Women’s Center, on June 12 at the Little Theater inside Municipal Auditorium. For tickets, donation or sponsorship information, call 816.421.7643 ext. 41 or visit
Photography by Angela Bond


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