After financial collapse of women’s shelter, Emporia groups work to meet needs

By: - January 23, 2021 9:59 am

Plumb Place in Emporia became a refuge for women in 1921. The shelter closed Dec. 31, about a year and a half after the report of theft from within the organization and the loss of United Way funding. (Max McCoy/Kansas Reflector)

A longstanding Emporia women’s shelter has closed its doors because of financial insolvency following internal theft and the loss of grant funding, forcing community leaders to replace the unique resources the shelter provided.

Plumb Place, which opened in 1921 and offered emergency and traditional housing to women, closed its doors Dec. 31, a year and a half after notifying police that $50,000 had been stolen from within the organization.

United Way of Flint Hills pulled its funding for Plumb Place before the theft was reported and later declined to restore the grant.

“We lost a much needed resource,” said Amanda Cunningham, executive director of Crosswinds Kansas in Emporia. “The women who chose to live there had a new opportunity at life, and without (Plumb Place), it shrunk the opportunity to find a place for stable living.

Crosswinds provides mental health resources in Emporia and is among organizations on a newly established advisory board intent on finding a way to offer resources in the absence of Plumb Place.

The United Way of the Flint Hills formed a committee of community partners to seek ways to provide housing for women in mid-December after Plumb Place announced its closure. Plumb Place offered housing for women who were released from prison, facing domestic violence, struggling with substance abuse or had a mental health diagnosis, according to its website.

“We have a responsibility to ensure that Plumb House itself and the wishes of the Plumb family are implemented and that the house be used to benefit women and girls,” said Mickey Edwards, executive director of United Way of the Flint Hills. “We are committed to doing whatever we can to reimplement whatever services are needed.”

Bloom House, a nonprofit serving at-risk and homeless youths in Kansas, assisted seven women living in Plumb Place at the end of the year to find new housing.

Bloom House employees sent letters offering assistance to each room in Plumb Place when rumors circulated about the shelter’s closing. Clara Corn, president of the Bloom House board of directors and Plumb Place executive director from 2017 to 2019, sits on the new advisory committee. 

The committee is in early stages in determining how to adequately meet the needs Plumb Place previously provided.

“There was this stability for women (at Plumb Place) that was the least restrictive environment for them to live their best life,” said Susan Brinkman, an Emporia city commissioner and a former Plumb Place director in 1995. 

Plumb Place interim director Mary Richardson, who held the role when the shelter announced it would close, could not be reached to answer questions regarding the closure.

Plumb Place filed a report to the Emporia Police Department in July 2018 after a forensic audit found $51,362 taken from the shelter. The theft occurred between Jan. 1, 2014 and April 30, 2017, according to the police report. Nobody has been charged in the case.

Before the report was filed, United Way of the Flint Hills pulled its funding for Plumb Place and required the shelter to satisfy a list of requirements to be reinstated as a community partner and renew funding. The requirements included a fraud examination and a police report of the theft, Edwards said.

Plumb Place met some of the requirements of United Way of the Flint Hills but never reapplied to be a community partner as required to receive funding from United Way.

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Plumb Place reapplied to be a community partner but United Way of the Flint Hills was unable to grant the partnership. Plumb Place did not reapply to be a community partner and for that reason could not receive funding from the United Way of the Flint Hills.

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Lucy Peterson
Lucy Peterson

Lucy Peterson is a junior at the University of Kansas studying journalism, political science, and French. She has worked in several roles at the University Daily Kansan, KU’s student publication. She is from Denver, Colorado.