The recent chilly weather has driven more homeless people to seek overnight shelter in Wichita.
The number of homeless men and women using the Warming Souls Winter Shelter operated by Inter-Faith Ministries has risen above 100 per night this week, which is unusually high, Inter-Faith officials said.
“I’m thankful they take us in and get us out of the cold,” said Randal Butcheck, 42, who is homeless with his wife Elizabeth, 38. “Without it, I’m sure we’d be frozen half to death and starving out in the streets.”
“It does wonder for people,” said Isaih Straughter, 30, who has been homeless off and on for four years.
There are homeless people who continue to sleep outside – under bridges, near the vents at the downtown public library, in abandoned buildings.
“They know where the help’s at,” Straughter said. “If they want it, they can get it. Everybody’s got to stand up someday and say they need help.”
“It’s a difficult thing, because a lot of people out here shun help. They run from society,” said Sam McLeod, 54, a homeless man who rides around the city on a bike.
Straughter and McLeod were among the 100 or so people who signed up for the shelter on Wednesday night when overnight temperatures plunged nearly into the single digits. They checked in at the Inter-Faith Inn, 320 E. Central, next door to the Lord’s Diner. From there the men were transported or directed to the shelter at Grace United Methodist Church, which can house up to 100 at night. Women were taken to the Inter-Faith Spiritual Center, 841 N. Market.
The winter shelter program runs for five months, from Nov. 1 through March. The first month was hosted by St. Paul United Methodist. It is being hosted by Grace United Methodist this month. In January, it will be hosted by First United Methodist. In February and March, the Catholic Diocese will host the shelter at the Inter-Faith Spiritual Center. Inter-Faith Ministries works with the St. Anthony Family Shelter to house families with kids. The winter shelters operate from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m. seven nights a week. They provide a cot for each guest, a hot meal at night and a continental-style breakfast in the morning.
There is no medical staff, but a nurse comes by and checks for health issues. Staffers are trained to observe, take safety precautions and call the right people, said Anne Corriston, executive director at Inter-Faith Ministries.
Last year the winter shelter provided 11,243 bed nights for 375 men and 95 women, she said.
There has been an overflow winter shelter in the Wichita area since 1990. This year, Inter-Faith Ministries has taken the lead role in planning and operating the shelter. Advocates to End Chronic Homelessness had taken the lead for the past four years, working with Inter-Faith Ministries.
The operating budget for the men’s and women’s shelters is $72,000, but, Corriston said, Inter-Faith needs another $10,000 to $20,000 for the final two months of the service.
Most of the money is needed to pay three full-time seasonal staffers and a part-time supervisor. Money also is needed to help repair wear-and-tear damage to the churches and properties that house the homeless, replace cots that become bent and damaged by use, and help start next year’s winter-shelter service, Corriston said.
Individual donors and churches help. Food is donated, but also has to be bought on occasion. The blankets – biodegradable and disposable – are donated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Corriston said.
The Union Rescue Mission, a year-round shelter at 2800 N. Hillside, has been averaging about 124 men this month, said Denny Bender, executive director. That number rose to 137 on Wednesday night, due to weather as well as a greater need for shelter toward the end of the month when money runs low.
The rescue mission, which houses only men, also provides an evening meal and morning breakfast.
It also needs help, in the form of cash and clothing, Bender said.