They shower at Metropolitan Lutheran Ministries on 11th between Cherry and Holmes, where many store all of their belongings in lockers and pick up their mail.
Bonner also can often find them at the downtown library, milling around out front or tucked in a corner of the stacks reading. Homeless people have nowhere else they can just be, so the library picks up the slack, even though it is not equipped to do so.
"If you carried all of your worldly possessions around in a couple trash bags ... and needed to go badly to the bathroom and would like to clean up, the public library probably wouldn't be the place of choice you would think of to go do those things," says Dan Bradbury, who served as library director for nineteen years before his retirement at the end of January.
It is a problem library staffers have tolerated, trying different policies over the years. There was a time when folks could congregate, smoke and eat right outside the doors. Back then, Bradbury says, entering the library was like "running a gauntlet" through the homeless people.
Sojourners, Bonner calls them. A group of his church members chose that word rather than referring to fellow congregation members merely as homeless.
Latest tallies indicate that more than 4,000 Kansas Citians are homeless. The numbers include nearly 1,000 families who live in emergency shelters or transitional apartments, as well as more than 500 individuals living on the streets or in emergency shelters. Mental disabilities keep some of those people from finding and keeping jobs. Alcohol or drug addiction takes the same toll on others. Some have chosen a life of travel. A few will rejoin society when they receive the right medication or complete rehab. Others will remain on the streets more or less permanently.
They have their own community, advising one another, trading information on where to camp, which emergency shelter is the best, where to find temporary work and where to go to church on Sunday.
For most, that place is Bonner's Grand Avenue Temple, just down the hill from the Federal Courthouse at Ninth and Grand.
"It's a clean place. The food is good," says Jerry Smothers, who says his address is "11-9 clearance." In other words, he lives under a bridge. Of Bonner's church, he says, "They don't push the Lord on you if you're not into it."
On weekends, Grand Avenue Temple serves meals when Grace and Holy doesn't, so plenty of visitors come just for the free lunch. But some arrive early for services, and many have joined, agreeing to attend regularly, to study the Bible and to tithe. They will give the church $1 out of every $10 they make, whether it's from a day of labor or a passerby softened by a cardboard appeal for money. Of the 170 members listed in Grand Avenue's church directory, 104 have no address.
Jose Ramos has been attending Grand Avenue for two years. "This church makes you feel you are really important," he says. "No obligation here. You are just coming to hear the word of God. I consider this the best church in Kansas City. It treats everybody equally."
Bonner wants to extend the church involvement in their lives from Saturday and Sunday lunches and services to every day of the week. He wants to open a center where sojourners can gather during the day to be safe and dry. Doing so, he believes, would decrease pressure on the library -- especially because it's slated to move into its new, $50 million marble home in the former Bank of America building at 10th and Baltimore next January.
The library is spawning several nearby projects. Antiquated office buildings are being reborn as trendy apartments. More lofts are being built along Grand. An expansion of Bartle Hall will begin soon. Plans for a new Performing Arts Center are progressing as well.
All the attention and investment downtown hasn't gone unnoticed by the people who wander its streets after the commuters have driven past garage security arms, beelined for the nearest highway ramps and gone home.
Homeless people talk about the changes when they line up for food or hang out in shelter day rooms. Mostly, the gossip is about what's happened to people everyone knows.
Over the summer, campers north of the City Market had to clear out for construction of the pedestrian walkway that's supposed to become part of a new Riverfront Heritage Trail. That same project forced a couple of other guys out of a small, abandoned railroad building just west of Berkley Park. Likewise, the three men who were living on a loading dock at Fifth and Walnut had to move. The city knocked down the giant brick building to make way for a parking lot.
Another longtime camp -- in Oppenstein Brothers Memorial Park, smack in the middle of downtown at 12th and Walnut -- was cleared out a couple of months ago. That cleanup effort was pushed by Sean O'Byrne, the real estate agent recently named director of the newly formed Kansas City Downtown Community Improvement District. O'Byrne says the homeless people and the drug dealers who dominated the park were one reason he was having trouble leasing space in the adjacent office buildings. Because it's a Jackson County park, emptying it involved a cooperative effort between the city and the county. City police now patrol it frequently, and the county changed the park's hours, closing it overnight. In a way, it seemed an appropriate time for the shopping-cart campout to end. The woman in the wheelchair who had been its longest resident died a few months ago.
Just a couple of weeks ago, homeless people have heard, Billy's stuff under the highway bridge was cleared out. He'd been there for years. No one has seen Billy since.
On a recent Saturday, one of the homeless members of Grand Avenue's congregation asked Bonner for trash bags. The man wasn't looking for cheap luggage. He explained that he and a couple of friends had weathered the recent cold snap by sleeping on the metal grate beside the old Federal Courthouse, and they'd left a mess he wanted to clean up.
Bonner thinks the man and his friends can help save downtown.
After all, they've saved his church.
Kansas City's Grand Avenue Temple was a product of the Civil War, which divided the Methodist Church like it split the country, writes Jacquelyn Moore, the pastor at the time, in a 1988 church history. The city's Southern Methodists were forced out of town; the Northern branch had trouble catching on until after the war, when the Reverend Stephen Guard Griffis arrived from Cincinnati.
That summer, Griffis preached from the porch of a dilapidated house. Then the congregation moved indoors, to Frank's Hall at Fifth and Main and, later, to a long, narrow room over the nearby Toppings grocery store.
In 1866, church members paid $1,000 for a couple of lots on the southeast corner of Ninth and Grand, where they pitched a tent until they could put up a building. The property was something short of prime land. It had a hill to be leveled, a hollow to be filled and a pond with frogs so loud they competed with the pastor for attention on Sundays.
From the beginning, the Grand Avenue Temple's sanctuary was open to all.
Its first building fund started in 1867 with $30 in coins donated by a former slave known as Aunt Docia, who had appealed to her former owner for the burial money he'd saved on her behalf.
Its walls rose as the town was beating out Leavenworth and St. Joseph for a railroad bridge across the Missouri River. The Hannibal Bridge brought boom times to town. By the early 1900s, Grand Avenue Temple was outgrowing its building, and some members were tempted to sell what was by then valuable property on surging Ninth Street.
"All along Ninth Street you could see there was a great sense of growth in Kansas City," says Jane F. Flynn, a board member of the Historic Kansas City Foundation. "A lot of Eastern money poured into the city," she adds. Among the church's neighbors were the New York Life building and the New England building, both built by New York investors.
The church members decided to stay put and, in 1910, knocked down their old brick Victorian sanctuary and broke ground on a new one. (During construction, they held services at the YMCA.)
This time, the congregation built Grand Avenue with a companion next door, a twelve-story office building they expected would help support the church by generating $67,000 a year in rental income. The two buildings both fronted Ninth Street, and they shared a wall.
For Grand Avenue Temple itself -- which looks more like a bank than a church -- local architect John McKecknie stole the design for its four Ionic columns from a temple in Athens. The carved wooden pews could hold 1,500 people -- some of whom sat in the balcony -- for Sunday services or other events. Temperance proponents, suffragettes and a host of high-powered preachers stood before its historic Ernest Skinner organ, their voices reverberating to its stained-glass skylights.
Grand Avenue was known as the "church of strangers" because a new influx of travelers joined the congregation each week. They sallied down from the busy Savoy Hotel, from the old Hotel Baltimore (where City Center Square now stands) and from a host of now-forgotten boarding houses. Cattle buyers stopped in to pray before a week of dealing in the West Bottoms. Out-of-town milliners found their way to Ninth and Grand during business trips to the Garment District. Travelers of all breeds stopped in between trains.
The church history tells of crowded years during the mid-1920s when ushers would turn away as many people as they let in for Sunday-night services. Flanked at the pulpit by police officers, Dr. Joseph M.M. Gray preached against Pendergast's boss rule.
But the flush times were not to last. The Depression transformed the office building next door from a cash cow to an albatross. With the church unable to pay its mortgage, Metropolitan Life Insurance Company of New York foreclosed on the property. After a capital campaign, the congregation was barely able to buy back the church proper for $20,000; the office building was lost for good.
The membership decline began in the late '50s, but a decade later, as many as 200 people still gathered at Grand Avenue on Sunday mornings.
It also kept its tradition of reaching out to visitors. In the 1980s, the Reverend Stuart Whitney helped found ReStart, a collaboration of churches interested in serving the neglected homeless community. Whitney set up a cold-weather emergency shelter in Grand Avenue's basement. By then, downtown had lost most of its energy to the suburbs -- the retailers had failed, and the office space had emptied -- but downtown remained the city's banking center, and the bankers weren't thrilled with Whitney's mission.
"I recall ... the concern of businesspeople," Whitney tells the Pitch. "Having folks in and around the church all the time, they felt intimidated by that many people."
In 1985, United Missouri Bank helped finance ReStart's move to 1026 Forest. The new location was outside the downtown loop and closer to the other shelters, the City Union Mission and the Salvation Army. ReStart now operates from 918 East Ninth, which looks out on Kemp Park, a place the homeless people call Jurassic Park.
The Reverend Jacquelyn Moore succeeded Whitney at the Grand Avenue pulpit in the late 1980s. Grand Avenue's first female senior pastor had lived a colorful life. She'd had a child at age 19 and was divorced at 25. She'd chained herself to a military installation during the Vietnam War and gone to jail for her trouble.
Moore took over what she thought was a failing church. Its membership had dropped to 120 people, only about three dozen of whom bothered to show up on Sundays. Moore split her time with another Methodist church in Northeast Kansas City, guiding both, she imagined, toward their ends.
"The church was a decaying downtown church," Moore says. "You ride those out until enough people die that they close."
Moore's specialty in seminary had been gerontology, and she felt at home among the white-haired widows. The women dutifully walked to services from subsidized apartment buildings nearby, such as the former Royal Towers at Ninth and McGee and the Vista Del Rio, now a gutted concrete edifice glowering over I-35 north of downtown, a sad symbol of the area's failure.
Members who were able drove in from the suburbs, sometimes dragging along guilt-ridden grandchildren. In the winter, they'd commune in a rectangular room Moore's predecessor had carved out of the back half of the sanctuary. Church members had yanked out pews and Sheetrocked-closed a room they could warm with space heaters to avoid the expensive commitment of firing up the aged boiler.
Knowing that her parishioners went home each Sunday to eat alone, Moore organized a potluck. There was always extra food, and one Sunday, Moore made up a tray and headed next door.
A bankrupted renovation effort had left the adjacent building vacant. Plywood covered some of the windows. Broken glass fell from others, perforating the roof of the shorter Grand Avenue Temple.
Urban homesteaders had claimed the building. They lit fires in the winter. They had pets. "They were drinking and drugging and doing their thing," Moore recalls.
That Sunday, Moore knocked on the dangling plywood she knew to be the building entrance. "I've got some food here if you all can use it," she said.
The food disappeared through the hole.
A couple of Sundays later, someone stood on the sidewalk outside the building awaiting the leftovers. A couple of weeks after that, Moore invited her neighbors inside to eat at the church.
Cautiously at first, the squatters next door and their friends accepted the church's hospitality. Then they began coming to services, too. And they began joining, studying, tithing.
"Very, very tentatively," Moore says. "There is no trust of church folks among the homeless in general."
The old ladies who sometimes struggled to take care of themselves enjoyed taking care of others. Eventually, there wasn't enough space for everyone in the little back room. "It became something that you see today," Moore says. "It went wild."
The vibe of the place and its female pastor drew new members -- ones with steady jobs and homes, some from nearby Quality Hill, others from the suburbs.
"This vivacious, late-forties single preacher, she was dynamite," says Lea Widick, who had recently retired but quickly took on the job of managing the church kitchen on weekends. "I was just in awe. I guess it filled some kind of need."
Kerry Schmidt joined after she saw Moore perform a wedding at Rockhill Manor, the assisted-living center for mental patients where she was activities director. When Moore invited everyone at Rockhill to come for Sunday services, Schmidt could not remember any other churches reaching out in the same way.
Nor could Bob Laauwe, a veteran who remains homeless and distrustful of strangers.
"I've had my problems in the past," he says. "People hurt me."
Laauwe recently returned to Kansas City after a couple of years in Louisiana, and he has fond memories of Moore and of Grand Avenue, which he eventually joined.
"It took me a long time to get to know her," he says. "I would give her my tithes."
The potluck grew into a full-blown meal, which church members prepared in the basement kitchen. They started serving lunch on Saturday, too. They asked the homeless advocate known as Mama Jo to offer referrals for doctors and dentists, for drug rehab and HIV screening. When homeless people died, Moore became the pastor and Grand Avenue Temple the church for the funeral.
Grand Avenue took its place in the closely linked network of homeless services. "I wish I could tell you this was a brilliant dream of mine," Moore says. "But it was truly just the spirit of God at work."
Moore says her tenure at Grand Avenue didn't come with much encouragement from the Methodist hierarchy. Grand Avenue is part of the Missouri Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church system, and Moore had been appointed to her job by the conference bishop.
"There was not a lot of support. There is not really a structure within the conference to support ministries of this sort," she says. But the conference didn't meddle either. "They just left me alone."
Despite its popularity among the people it fed, it's not surprising that Grand Avenue has not achieved financial stability under Moore. "I learned to pray at Grand Avenue Temple," Moore says. Somehow, though, unexpected donations came in just when Moore was most worried. When the roof leaked, Moore and a crew of thirteen homeless men put in sweat equity, tearing off multiple layers and reaching the original burlap-and-tar roof before a roofing company came in to finish the job. The pros were so impressed by the plucky minister and her laborers that they ended up donating the new roof.
And Moore says she never seriously considered periodic offers from the nearby Federal Reserve Bank to buy the church for its own expansion.
"The people who were the church didn't want it sold," she says. "They were adamant about staying where they were and doing ministry where they were.
Moore left in 2000 to go to New York City, where she served in a similar ministry just off Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village. She was replaced by the Reverend Gwen Trullinger.
With Moore went the energy that had inspired so many of her members.
"The spark of the church just kind of disappeared. It didn't take long for that to happen," Schmidt says.
Also with Moore went the church's reluctance to deal with the Federal Reserve Bank.
In January 2001, Methodist Superintendent Ken Lutgen came to talk to Grand Avenue's board of trustees about the long-standing purchase offer.
He made it sound like he was doing them a favor by taking the large building and its aging infrastructure off their hands, recalls Schmidt, who was on the board. Schmidt remembers Lutgen telling them the church was going to die anyway. He offered a couple of alternative locations, including the recently closed Jennie's Restaurant near Columbus Park and some vacant retail space nearby.
"How can you go from being a historic church to a storefront?" Schmidt asks.
The church members didn't plan to go quietly.
On January 20, 2001, the Saturday before church members were to vote on the sale, Widick called the media. "Somebody had to," she says.
That night and the next day, local news broadcasts and the newspaper were filled with stories about the good works being done at Grand Avenue Temple.
Lutgen said the organ, the stained-glass windows and the pews would be sent to other Methodist churches. He said the congregation was "not of the size to maintain the building."
Dick H. Woods Jr., senior vice president and general counsel for the Federal Reserve, was quoted as well, saying the bank wanted to erect a new building and needed to know soon if the Grand Avenue Temple would be willing to sell.
The two men offered cold counterpoint to images of poor people eating chicken and wondering who would feed them if Grand Avenue closed. The Star had a photo of a man cleaning up after one meal; its caption quoted him as saying, "We're not street people here. We're human beings."
The attention did the trick.
Instead of voting to sell, Lutgen suggested that the congregation delay the vote for ninety days. The follow-up vote never happened, and short-term pastor Trullinger moved to St. Louis.
In the aftermath of the sale attempt, Lutgen tapped Dan Bonner to take over at Grand Avenue. Bonner didn't want the job. Two summers ago, Bonner was in his seventh year at St. James United Methodist Church -- associate pastor to former Mayor Emanuel Cleaver. He loved the job, serving behind the scenes for the charismatic preacher cum politician. "I was thrilled to death to be part of his team," Bonner says.
He had arrived at Cleaver's door in the summer of 1994, after a year and a half working for ReStart and six months with the Local Investment Commission (LINC -- a social-service agency that provides assistance to homeless families). Bonner had grown up in Sulfur Springs, Texas, then played football at Yale University, where he enrolled in divinity school. His career returned him to Texas, where he helped a Brownsville church evolve from a dwindling white congregation to a thriving, mostly Hispanic one.
In 1987, he took a job as senior pastor at the prestigious First United Methodist Church of Wichita, Kansas, with its 3,000-member congregation. Its services were broadcast on ABC. But Bonner found the homogeneous, elite congregation unfulfilling. Kansas City's social-service network offered an escape. He returned to church work for the job at St. James.
But Lutgen told Bonner that seven years was enough time as an associate pastor. It was time for Bonner to be in charge of his own church again.
Though he protested, Bonner is a Methodist minister. And Methodist ministers sign on with a promise to go where the Methodist hierarchy directs them.
"I did my best Methodist salute and said ... 'I'm not going to throw a fit,'" Bonner says.
Lutgen designed Bonner's role as threefold, splitting time among Grand Avenue, Westport United Methodist Church and the Center for Urban Congregational Renewal, a sort of consulting agency for urban churches that Bonner had started with Cleaver.
There was just one problem: Westport didn't want to share a pastor. That congregation had always had a full-time pastor of its own, and within a few months the church stopped paying its share of Bonner's salary in protest.
Grand Avenue didn't. Instead, its members offered to step up their own payment to the Methodist minimum of $46,000 including benefits if Bonner would join them full time. For the church, that meant finding another $20,000 a year in its strained budget. For Bonner, it meant seeing his salary cut in half for a job he didn't want.
But Lutgen wasn't offering alternatives. Bonner took the job.
Over the past year, more people have joined Grand Avenue, lifting its membership to 170. And money has started coming in -- much of it in the form of coins that clink together in the cloth collection bags attached to poles that volunteers extend into the congregation.
Last year's budget was $109,000; this year, it's $160,000. The budget for the Lazarus Table meal program has grown as well, from $45,000 last year to $60,000 this year.
"Practically everybody here gives disproportionately," Bonner says. "We take that seriously."
Epiphany Sunday, the second Sunday after Christmas (when the wise men supposedly arrived to honor the baby Jesus), generates $3,000. That morning begins at 8:30, when associate pastor Charlie Key opens the door to his "gospel talks" in the smaller back room built during the space-heater days.
A man whose gray hair flows over a red scarf (signifying that he's a church volunteer) serves biscuits and gravy on white Styrofoam plates. The aroma of simmering gravy merges with the occasional smell of body odor from a visitor a few days from his last shower.
Despite the warm temperature, most of the 27 people in the room leave their coats on. And most are paying more attention to their coffee and biscuits than to Key, who reads from the Bible:
"No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth."
"What does that mean?" Key asks.
An old black woman tucks a braid under her hand-knitted red-and-blue cap. Her plate is empty, but her jaw is still working, gnawing food long since swallowed. A man takes off his shoes and pads across the room in clean gray socks to fetch more coffee, his dreadlocks tied in a mound behind his head.
One man sitting at the table and clutching his own black Bible replies, "Love is what God is. Hate is what God is not."
That's not quite the response Key wanted, but he nods and ends up answering his own question. "Money and property have a real corrupting influence on us," he says.
As the Bible study breaks up, the volunteer tries to distribute his remaining provisions. "Anybody want any more of these biscuits? I haven't got gravy, but I've got biscuits."
By 9:40, three dozen sojourners have found space on the oak pews. Life has clearly worn on them. They slump in their seats or sprawl to the side across their piles of possessions while recorded gospel music comes through tinny speakers.
As service time nears, more people arrive -- about 100 total. The nonsojourners include longtime members whose treks to Grand Avenue began when the church was dying. They still sit together down front, a white enclave in a semicircle of mostly darker skin.
"We call those folks the wise ones," Bonner says.
This morning the crowd also includes a dozen teen-age girls from Peculiar, Missouri, who have come to help serve the meal later. Finding the words in their bulletin, they read aloud the Grand Avenue creed. "Grand Avenue Temple, where everybody is somebody special, reaching out to unite all in God's love," they recite.
As announcements are concluding, a pudgy white man stumbles slowly down the aisle. His eyelids droop. His hands are blackened with use. Bonner grabs one of them and shakes it in greeting.
Then it's time for Grand Avenue's open microphone, or "special music," a ritual that began during Moore's tenure. Bonner hands his microphone to anyone who wants it. "It is so important to them to have one place in their world ... where what they are doing, playing the harmonica or singing, is honored as their gift," Bonner says.
A thin black man rises to sing "Shall We Gather at the River." His whole body writhes to his own quavering voice as he holds the microphone so high that he has to turn his face to the ceiling to sing.
Then the man with black hands stands hesitantly and announces that he will offer a poem. He holds the microphone in his left hand and cups his right hand before him as if to catch rain as he mumbles. "Faster, faster, deeper, deeper ... into the bowels of hell," he says.
Finally one of the "wise ones," Jessie Webb, makes her way to the front from her second-row seat. She tells the congregation that her parrot has begun to sing along with her.
"We've got a good Christian cockatiel," she says before launching into an incredibly high version of the old saw "He Lives." She earns a high five from Bonner and applause from the congregation.
After a hymn, it is Bonner's turn at the microphone.
The lanky minister has just enough Southern-preacher enthusiasm to keep his congregants awake -- and, leaving his red robe unzipped, he also gives them a good dose of East Coast liberalism.
It being Epiphany Sunday, Bonner's sermon is on the wise men, who followed the star of Bethlehem from the east to find the baby Jesus. Well, he points out, Iraq is east of Bethlehem. Iraq also is the home of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which were believed to flow through Eden.
In other words, "our president and the other Bushkins ... are about to unleash the most powerful military arsenal ever assembled by humanity on ... the ancestors of the wise men ... on my birthplace and on your birthplace."
A ringing doorbell interrupts Bonner's rant.
Someone has closed the security door, which had been propped open with a plastic hanger. "Somebody open the door," Bonner hollers to the back of the church. "Y'all want to find a locked door on Sunday morning?"
Bonner brings his sermon back to Kansas City. He explains how he'd like the "exceeding joy" experienced by the wise men when they found the baby Jesus to be the same joy shared in the area's homeless shelters and on "the 29th floor of City Hall, the seventh floor of the Jackson County Courthouse, the governor's limo, the UMB executive suite, Commerce Bank, the computer company in the West Bottoms ... the sweet mayor and council-elect and the government hoodlums in the state legislature.
"I want the story of the wise ones to shine some light on all of us this Epiphany Sunday."
Key is a retired cop, and Bonner recruited him to be associate pastor. When he's not leading gospel talks, Key has been refining the plan for the church-basement community center. "The focus of it is, essentially, come and be welcome and rest," he says.
Key envisions a large, open basement room with fresh paint and new tables, a place sojourners can gather during the day to be warm and visit with friends. Another area could be devoted to art, with workshops and displays providing a creative outlet for sojourners. There would be plenty of bathrooms and showers as well as free washers and dryers. Social-service agencies could keep regular hours to help those in need.
Key and Bonner estimate the initial construction cost at $1.9 million and ongoing staff and maintenance costs at $75,000 a year.
But the community center is just part of the church's goal. Bonner recently brought in a Central Baptist seminary student, John Hiner, who will be living in the church and trying to build a ministry among the newer residents of downtown -- the young and hip and single professionals who have moved in to fill the growing number of lofts and apartments downtown.
Bonner hopes the thirty-year-old Hiner will be able to reach the new demographic and organize support groups that might evolve into Bible-study classes -- and ultimately a second, new arm of the congregation. Bonner is realistic enough to know that the partying loft crowd is unlikely to wake up Sunday morning eager to sing along with Jessie Webb.
Bonner, who wants Grand Avenue to be an influential part of the downtown scene once again, dares to suggest an alternative when it comes to the way Kansas City treats its homeless: Why not include them in the city's plans?
That question gets back to the shiny new library scheduled to open a year from now.
"When this library was planned, whoever put their heads to doing it had the unfortunate lack of foresight to underbuild public restroom facilities," recently retired Library Director Dan Bradbury says of the current library. Among the grimy floors the main library rents from the Kansas City School District's headquarters at 12th and McGee are a two-stall men's restroom in the basement, a two-stall women's restroom on the second floor and two single-stool restrooms on the third floor.
"If you have a dozen homeless folks who want to get clean, relieve themselves, do whatever they want to do at 9:02 [a.m.], it is a problem," Bradbury says.
Now, construction fencing circles the old Bank of America building at 10th and Baltimore -- home to what will be an elegant new institution. In all, the library, philanthropic organizations and -- possibly -- Kansas City taxpayers will spend $50 million on the new public space. This plan includes 45 toilets. Homeless people will probably still go to the library to clean up, hang out and read.
But if Bonner's dream comes true, the Grand Avenue Temple community center -- with its showers, washing machines and card tables -- will open its doors on the same day as the new library.
But Bonner will have to meet a few challenges before his vision can complement the city's. Mainly, he has to find $1.9 million for construction.
Although the federal government sends around $5 million to Kansas City for homeless services every year, it's unlikely Bonner could have any of that money for his center. For starters, the city already has a "drop in" center -- the Homeless Services Center of Metropolitan Lutheran Ministries. Since 1987, the Department of Housing and Urban Development has given MLM grant money to run the center. Initially, it was a place to visit for coffee, to use the phone, to pick up mail or take a shower. In recent years, however, HUD has demanded more accountability and measurable results. It wants agencies to keep track of how many people progress from street to shelter to apartment. "It is a goal for us to see these people move on," says Dale Gray, a HUD spokeswoman.
Gray says it's doubtful that HUD would write Bonner a check based on his no-strings proposal.
But Bonner says he could get historic tax credits, because the building is on the National Register. And last month, Bonner made a presentation to the Greater Downtown Development Authority, which is charged with distributing $15.2 million in voter-approved bond money for downtown development. He says the bankers and development attorneys who serve on the GDDA were receptive to his proposal.
Whether they were just being polite or they will put some cash in Bonner's collection bag remains to be seen.
Frankly, downtown revivalists would rather see Bonner's sojourners stay outside the freeway loop.
"Not to discount what he's doing, because what he's doing is very needed and very good," says Kansas City Downtown Community Improvement District Director Sean O'Byrne. "At the same time, maybe we can put his ministry and what he wants to do closer to the other shelters.... The best thing we can do is put all the tools for these folks in this situation in one easy-to-grab area instead of spreading out through the entire central business district."
Bonner wants them spread out through the entire central business district for central business district's own good.
As part of downtown's new cleanup efforts, O'Byrne will have about $1.5 million a year to spend on streetscape improvements like planters and sidewalk repair. But he also mentions a cleanup crew that would spiff up the sidewalks and gutters and parks.
Bonner wants that cleanup crew to come from his church. It would make nearby bankers happy to see sojourners on the streets, and it would give Grand Avenue Temple another reason to live.
After all, who better to keep watch over the streets than the people who know them best?