Chantre Russ arrived in Kansas City on a Greyhound Bus from California with three children, two bags and nowhere to go.
A Kansas City police officer found Russ and her children — 4 years old, 2 years old and 7 months old — sleeping in a parking garage stairwell.
Even though it was 2 a.m., that June 28 night, Sgt. AJ Henry called KCPD’s Social Services Coordinator Gina English for help. He needed to find a place for Russ and her children to sleep for the night. Calling state social services workers to put the children in foster care wasn’t an option.
“It was not going to happen on his watch,” English said. “That family was not going to be separated.”
That’s when Kansas City police officers, social workers and community organizations banded together to help Russ.
She moved into Sheffield Place, an organization serving homeless mothers and their children. Russ was recently approved for public housing. In California, her oldest child’s father was murdered — she needed to leave the state. She picked Kansas City after receiving a letter for public housing from the Housing Authority of Kansas City and arrived in Kansas City on June 26. Her story was shared Tuesday morning at the Kansas City Police Department’s Board of Commissioners meeting.
“This woman, where she’s at, what she’s done, she has done everything on her own,” English said. “She just needed a support team. She just needed someone to cheer her on and remind her that she’s made it this far and she can continue to go further.”
The Police Department, through funding from the Hall Foundation, put social workers at each of the six patrol divisions earlier this year. The social workers are a resource for officers to call when they’re out of tools, English said.
After English got the call that night, she began reaching out to every resource in the community she knew of, like Truman Medical Center and the Missouri State Highway Patrol, both of which provided her car seats for the children.
But Russ and her children needed a place to sleep — the only shelter with an opening was in Topeka. Instead, Russ and four officers pooled $80 for a hotel room to keep the family together. Another officer pulled English aside and offered to set aside $100 so Russ could furnish her own place in the future.
Eventually, English got Russ into an extended-stay hotel. Her first night there, an officer’s wife and an officer’s daughter-in-law showed up at the hotel with toys, clothes and pizza.
“I could see the mother feeling overwhelmed and I could see her going into herself and I looked at her and said, ‘I need you to know this is not charity,'” English said. “‘This is love. This is support.'”
Support from across Kansas City poured in for Russ since then, including organizations like Healing Pathways, Community Assistance Council, Hope Faith and Holiday Inn. She’s been supported with diapers, wipes, formula, hygiene products and more.
Kansas City Police Board President Nathan Garrett said the work of the social workers and officers was commendable. Officers are known for their work responding to emergency calls, not these kinds of interactions they have with the public, he said.
“Sometimes that tends to overshadow the part of our work that is arguably more important to this city’s future and it is stuff just like that,” Garrett said.
English later told Russ about Henry’s determination to not let the family get separated.
“When I told her that and she looked at me and very quietly she said, ‘I’m just so thankful the officers found me because I don’t know what I would have done, because I was actually thinking about calling Children’s Division on myself,'” English said. “That’s the part that’s just heartbreaking for me. … That’s a good parent. That’s a good parent.”