Six years of coordinated efforts to help the chronically homeless population in Wichita and Sedgwick County have built a one-stop resource center as well as strong working relationships. They’ve also changed lives for good, while reminding the community that there are no quick fixes to the complex and costly socioeconomic problem of chronic homelessness.
The city, the county and the United Way of the Plains convened the Taskforce to End Chronic Homelessness in 2006. The task force released its ambitious five-point action plan in January 2008, when no one could have imagined the economic turmoil ahead for the community, nation and globe.
Yet Jack Focht, who has chaired both the task force and the ongoing oversight committee since, was able to point to impressive progress when he updated the Wichita City Council and Sedgwick County Commission last week. The task force’s recommendations were:
• Develop a one-stop resource and referral center. Check.
Through the generosity of so many, United Methodist Open Door’s $5.4 million center opened in January at 402 E. Second St., providing a spacious “place to go” during the day as well as a place to find or wash clothes, eat lunch, shower, and get medical, legal, career and housing help. “We got it,” Focht told the City Council.
• Provide 64 rooms and apartments for the chronically homeless throughout the city. Check.
Since March 2009, the “Housing First” program has afforded 130 individuals with a place to live along with case management and support services; 34 have left the program successfully, 60 are being successfully housed, and 27 are contributing to their housing expenses. To their credit, the city and county each have committed $191,000 a year to help with rent and utility costs.
• Provide emergency shelter for 25 to 50 people. Check.
For four years, Advocates to End Chronic Homelessness raised money and worked with downtown churches to operate a winter overflow shelter, providing 470 people with beds and meals last winter. And as of April, Inter-Faith Ministries has taken the lead role on the emergency shelter.
• Establish an oversight committee to implement the task force’s plan. Check.
• Find $993,400 in additional funding per year.
Only that recommendation to find sustainable funding remains unrealized. And it may be the most important of all, because it will enable the rest of the task force’s plan to succeed long term.
Homelessness has many faces, ages and races, as Focht told the City Council, and “this is a group who is probably the least represented of any group there is. They don’t have an advocacy body speaking for them.”
But in Wichita and Sedgwick County, those who are chronically homeless now do have the benefit of an official, coordinated, ongoing effort to look out for them and help them find housing and stability.
Gratitude is due the many people, churches, organizations and businesses that have been part of this winning partnership. With every year, they’ve shown that “homeless” needn’t mean “hopeless.”
For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman