During a very cold winter in 1987, a homeless person froze to death on Troost in Kansas City, Missouri. It was then that God laid on Pastor Ken Smith’s heart the need to start Forest Avenue Family Shelter. With 50 cots and 50 blankets, Pastor Ken opened the south half of the Forest Avenue Baptist Church building to the homeless. Over time, Forest Avenue Family Shelter had to narrow its focus. Today FAFS is a true emergency shelter for women and women with children averaging 32 homeless guests per night. FAFS is one of only two true emergency shelters in the KC metropolitan area. If space is available, FAFS can provide a bed for a homeless individual the same day that they request it, or in some cases, the next day. Pastor Ken likes to say that at FAFS they still take people off the streets.
Last year, the shelter experienced a 30% rise in the number of homeless women and children. This has always included single women, single women with children, battered women, and sex trafficking victims.
Their primary goal is to present the gospel to each and every person that comes through the shelter. Roughly 95% of the ladies that stay in the shelter are unbelievers and many of them stay only a few nights. Each guest receives a nutritious meal following a gospel testimony every evening. Because of their ministry in the community, many people have been saved and many more are involved in their Deeper Life Discipleship Program. There are a number of BR-KC churches that take groups to the shelter regularly to help provide meals and serve. FAFS not only provides food and a place to sleep, but all guests, regardless of the length of their stay, are assigned a case manager who works with them to set simple, realistic goals and to work on self-motivation.
The shelter has always been staffed by volunteers and remains located in the midst of a poverty-stricken community. FAFS does not receive any city, state, or federal funds. It has always been and continues to be funded by the Lord through donations – monetary, goods, services, and prayer. Most months, they operate with just enough money to pay utilities. Because of the age of their building, repairs and upgrades are needed frequently. Over the past few years, they have had to replace air conditioners, hot water heaters, boilers and more. Each time the shelter closes for repairs, those in need are turned away. Additionally, financial contributions over the past few years have been cut in half even though the needs have grown.
Note: As of May 2018, Forest Avenue Shelter is no longer in operation.
This article was originally published in the April 2016 edition of our Missions & Ministry Newsletter.