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Sunday, Mar. 30, 2014

Hillcrest opens its first Johnson County transitional residence for homeless people

Special to The Star


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Sherri Berray grew up in the same Overland Park neighborhood where she now lives as resident manager of a new multi-family residence for people working to escape homelessness — as Berray did — with the help of Hillcrest of Kansas.

The nonprofit agency, an affiliate of Hillcrest Transitional Housing, works with churches and others to help people like Berray emerge from poverty. Hillcrest on Tuesday held a ceremony to mark the opening of its first transitional residence in Johnson County in a four-plex near Oak Park Mall. Hillcrest operates dozens of residences in other parts of the Kansas City-St. Joseph area, but this is its first in the county.

Overland Park Councilman David White was among the speakers at Tuesday’s grand opening.

“This is something new for Overland Park,” White said. “We’re not used to talking about the poor and homeless, but this is a social thing we have to deal with. Hillcrest is part of that safety net, and we want to welcome you and wish you the best of luck.”

The people Hillcrest invites to live in its transitional residences are mainly referred by churches and social-service agencies. They are offered shelter, including utilities and some food, free for 90 days, during which they are expected to work, save and take advantage of the counseling services Hillcrest offers.

Hillcrest’s Chief Operating Officer Chuck Arney said Hillcrest offers “a hand up, not a handout.”

“We accept homeless people with the objective of moving them to self-sufficiency, and over 90 percent of our graduates remain self-sufficient,” he said. “Our staff helps people learn how to budget, how to increase employment opportunities, how to find permanent places to live.

“There are 2,000 homeless people in Johnson County right now, ” Arney said. “We desire to increase our programs to meet the need.”

Village Presbyterian Church in Prairie Village was a moving force behind the opening of Hillcrest’s Overland Park four-plex, with members providing funds to help purchase the building and working to fix it up.

Village Presbyterian’s emergency assistance/local missions coordinator, Deborah White, said working with Hillcrest is “a labor of love” for the church. “We look forward to making a difference in the lives of the residents,” she said.

Overland Park Chamber of Commerce President Tracey Osborne spoke of the need for such a program.

“It’s often said that a measure of a community is how it takes care of its people in need,” Osborne said, “so we are delighted to welcome Hillcrest to begin taking care of these special people in need. We appreciate that you are helping to meet the need in Johnson County, and we are delighted to have your help in making the fabric of our community so much stronger.”

After she fell on hard times, Berray said, she was referred to Hillcrest’s transitional housing program, after which she moved into its longer-term graduate program. In that program, formerly homeless people can live for up to 18 months in a subsidized Hillcrest residence, paying $350 a month for rent and utilities while they save for a place of their own. After that, Berray applied for and became the full-time resident manager of Hillcrest’s new Overland Park four-plex. Each of Hillcrest’s area properties has a resident manager, who acts both as a counselor and role model for the other residents, and who maintains the property.

Getting one’s own place is an important psychological step for a homeless person staying with friends or relatives, Berray said.

“There are mental issues that go along with ending up in a position like this,” she said. “There is a lot to be said for having your own area. Then you can take the baby steps to get to where you need to be.”

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