Artists Helping the Homeless, Inc., (AHH) was founded in 2008 with 501(c)3 status to fund a Sunday night meal program through art events and sales. As AHH learned the stories and needs of the homeless, they discovered they could link them with resources to help them. The agency was created by Kar Woo, a local businessman and artist whose gallery was near the park. For Woo, who majored in psychology in college, this program brought together his business, art and psychology training.
By mid-2009, Saint Luke’s Hospital, like other emergency services, was experiencing soaring costs for homeless care. Many of the ED cases involved non-emergent issues. When they called a meeting of homeless and emergency services, their homeless clients suggested they invite Artists Helping the Homeless, whose Sunday meals were held in the park across the street.
The meeting spawned the concept for the BE THE CHANGE van to address transportation, a critical need of the homeless. The van program utilized the principles developed through the meal program and outlined in the agency’s mission. When the Saint Luke’s Foundation offered to fund the start-up, Woo closed his store to devote his full attention to developing the program.
Soon after the van’s launch in February 2010, a daytime operation was added. On the streets every night, the staff quickly built relationships with the homeless, as well as local homeless and emergency services. Over the next few months, the program continued to evolve to meet the needs of both the homeless and community, both of whom Woo considered customers.
These collaborations provide win-win situations for the homeless as well as the collaborating agencies. Today, homeless agencies provide services and staff, hospitals provide financial support and technical or in-kind services; and universities provide interns and services through class projects. The homeless benefit from the wrap-around services and care coordination. The result is similar to that described in the Winter 2011 Stanford Social Innovation Review as Collective Impact.
Today, Artists Helping the Homeless has grown beyond the original 1½ hour a week meal program. That meal program, along with one started the following year in Olathe, have dished up over 65,000 servings. The meals, like the rides, provide an opportunity to know and build rapport with the homeless. The BE THE CHANGE program operates 100 hours a week with a staff of 5 and volunteers crisscrossing the city.
The program has been recognized by the Homeless Services Coalition, Kansas City Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Mayor of Kansas City, Missouri, and KC Magazine. The Kansas City Star (Sunday, May 6, 2012) and KCUR (KC Currents, December 7, 2011) stories relayed the experiences of reporters who shadowed the program for a day.
At the 2009 meeting, the Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department presented a video depicting the Cost of Doing Nothing (below). Using those costs, this program has saved community emergency services $5 for each $1 it costs. Each day, the program provides its motto:
Helping the Homeless, Helping the Community