Nine members of the Wichita community were remembered during a memorial service Wednesday night, the first day of winter and the longest night of the year.
Each of the nine was a homeless person who died during 2016. Wichita police Officer Nate Schwiethale said the nine deaths occurred from various causes such as crime, illness and exposure.
About 50 people attended the service at St. John’s Episcopal Church in conjunction with the National Coalition for the Homeless’ memorial service. Advocates for End Chronic Homelessness sponsored the local service.
“We felt like it was the only memorial quite a few of these people would get,” said Kathy Bowles, secretary for the group.
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The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reported that homeless numbers have gone down during 2016, but Bowles said there “still are gaps” that need to be filled.
“There’s just not enough space for families,” she said.
Family Promise of Greater Wichita is a new family shelter that accepted its first family in November. Executive director Jacqueline Cook Green said the shelter still has three beds open for another family in need.
During the recent cold weather, Inter-Faith Ministries’ emergency shelters have provided shelter for the homeless. The winter emergency shelters are open from November to March.
Carolyn Kell, the marketing manager at Inter-Faith Ministries, said the most clients it has had in a single day in its men’s shelter this winter was around 100. The shelter has enough room for 120, but Kell said the shelter never turns away anyone in need.
“Ours are all emergency shelters,” Kell said. “If they knock on the door, we take them in.”
When Inter-Faith’s winter shelters close in March, there are limited shelters for single women. Union Rescue Mission offers year-round shelter for men, but there is no equivalent for women in Wichita.
Schwiethale said the Homeless Outreach Team has to turn away single women looking for shelter during the months that Inter-Faith’s emergency shelters are closed.
“It’s virtually impossible to get a single female into a shelter,” Schwiethale said.
During the winter, Inter-Faith Ministries works to find permanent housing for those in its shelter so they will have somewhere to live when the winter shelters close.
While Inter-Faith provides service for the “chronic homeless,” Kell said many of the people who seek shelter are just going through a rough patch.
“Just one tiny crisis can put you out on the street,” Kell said. “We have a lot of people who are first-time homeless.”