Chris Spiwak is KCATA’s Transit Street Outreach Worker for homeless people in our community. KCATA partnered with the ReDiscover to implement a pilot program that will give resources to homeless people on buses and at transit stops around Kansas City, Missouri.
Spiwak has worked at ReDiscover for three years in the transitional living program. He says he’s always been outgoing and not afraid to talk to strangers.
“I built great relationships with the clients,” said Spiwak.
The ability to talk to strangers helps him in his current role as a transit street outreach worker. Every day, he goes out with transit security to stops to give resources to those in need.
“When I get to the scene, if they want help, I can get them help right there. But they have to want it. I carry brochures with resources for them. Sometimes it takes three or four conversations before they trust me enough to take the help.” Spiwak offers customers access to housing resources and tries to meet their immediate needs. He can send them to a triage place where they will get immediate help.
KCATA CEO Robbie Makinen says this is just what a transit agency is supposed to be doing.
“Homelessness is not a transit issue, it’s a community issue,” said Makinen. “The City had devoted funding to improve conditions for the homeless, non-profit agencies are partnering to offer resources to help, and now RideKC is stepping up to give people access to support services. We are not going to run away from the people who need us most. We’re going to run towards them.”
Spiwak says he talks to several people each day. He goes out at different times of the day so he can make sure to reach different people at the stops and on the buses.
Each day is different and sometimes things can get challenging. “I know when to stay back,” said Spiwak. Spiwak says some people get angry or defensive and aren’t interested in help. But Spiwak continues his work “because at the end of the day I know they are people too and they just need support.”
Spiwak says he’s surprised at the reception he’s received from people near the stops. He says he hopes the year-long pilot is extended because there are so many people who need help. "Even if they don’t accept my help the first time I meet them, I’m going to constantly be there until the day they say they are ready for a change.”