When temperatures drop, the cold and desperation drive more homeless Wichitans to Inter-Faith Ministries’ annual winter shelter.
In its first few days of operation this year, 30 or so men showed up at 841 N. Market for a meal and place to sleep. When the temperature dipped below freezing earlier this week, the number doubled to more than 60.
“Weather plays a role,” Anne Corriston, executive director of Inter-Faith Ministries, said of shelter attendance.
“In the past, we opened the shelter if the others were full. Now we just open it regardless.”
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Wichita’s Warming Souls Winter Shelter opened Nov. 1, marking the first of five months the nightly housing will be available to local homeless people trying to escape the winter’s chill.
In the past, the men’s shelter rotated among five churches; each provided housing and meals to guests for about a month. But this year it will remain at a single location – Inter-Faith Spiritual Center, 841 N. Market – for the duration of the winter.
The women’s shelter, which has housed three to 11 guests nightly since opening, is a block east at Ti’Wiconi Safe Haven, 841 N. Broadway.
“Logistically it just works out really well now,” Corriston said of the new stationary men’s shelter. “There’s no moving cots or supplies.”
Check-in for both shelters will be nightly at Inter-Faith Inn, 320 E. Central. Men may arrive as early as 6 p.m.; women’s check-in starts at 7:30 p.m. A bed, dinner, breakfast and some case management services are offered daily.
The shelters close at 7 a.m. They operate until March 31.
The downtown winter shelter first opened in 1990 as a “patchwork-quilt solution,” Corriston said, for housing local homeless during what was expected to be a brutally cold winter. In April 2012, Inter-Faith Ministries assumed financial and operating responsibility for the shelters from local group Advocates to End Chronic Homelessness, which oversaw it for four years. Before that, Inter-Faith had provided staffing.
Corriston said a July 2012 deal to buy the building that now houses the men’s shelter from the York Rite Masons made a permanent site possible.
Last season, the shelter housed 608 individuals – most with multiple stays – over 151 nights.
“We bought this building in part because the Catholic Diocese offered to host the shelter for two months (last year) but didn’t have a location,” Corriston said.
Soon the other churches, too, asked Inter-Faith to provide the location while they offered volunteers and food.
“It was kind of a domino effect,” she said.