Hope for displaced metro families is near - KCTV5

Hope for displaced metro families is near

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A vision to provide new temporary housing and transitional living services to homeless metro families with children is close to becoming a reality.

It's in Raytown where the former Park Lane Hospital that once healed the sick is being resurrected by a local pastor to heal the misfortunes of homeless families.

"It all happened because I saw a school bus stop one day and I saw six or seven elementary-age kids get on the school bus in front of a pay-by-the-week motel here in Raytown," said John Wiley, the founder of River of Refuge.

Curious about children boarding the bus who apparently lived in the motel, he did some research and found a striking number of families are taking up residence in motels through the area. Wiley, pastor of The River Family Church in Raytown and former Raytown City Councilman, challenged his church to begin assisting families at one motel. Informed and more impressed with the scope of the need, Wiley's vision took a giant leap forward in 2009 when he led the way to the purchase the former hospital, a 150,000-square-foot vacant facility, valued at $16 million, for just 6 percent of its value.

River of Refuge, a nonprofit, was formed six years ago with just a few thousand dollars. Now, the Missouri Department of Economic Development (DED) has announced that the organization has been approved for state tax credits under the Neighborhood Assistance Program (NAP) for $241,870. These tax credits will raise nearly $500,000 for improvements.

"It's been overwhelming because the more and more people become aware of the River of Refuge and our capacity to help, the phone calls go up," Wiley said.

The organization now has a sense of stability, just like the families it helps.

Samuel and Jenene Eason were living with their children in a motel when River of Refuge came knocking.

"When they came along, it just opened up everything and we were on the verge of divorce. They helped us out with marriage counseling to get us back to where we need to be within each other," Samuel Eason said.

Plans for the first phase of the project include development of 11 residential units so families can move in right away. In addition to shelter, tenants will be given training in areas like personal finance, career development and relationship skills. Upon successful completion, tenants will also have opportunities to purchase affordable housing, another dimension of the entire River of Refuge plan.

"Every problem that we had, we don't have (anymore). From the housing to the divorce," Jenene Eason said.

A promising future – something most everyone wants – is now in sight for homeless families through River of Refuge.

"We can see a future and before we couldn't even see tomorrow," Jenene Eason said.

The 11 units in the first wing of the center will open around Jan. 1, 2013. It will increase the amount of beds for homeless families by 40 percent in Kansas City. When finished, the center will be able to house nearly 150 families.

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