Homeless connect with services, get counted at Century II

WICHITA — Some received their first haircuts in months; others learned they were eligible for veterans' benefits.

About 600 homeless people came to Century II's Expo Hall today to connect with much-needed services, eat lunch and be counted.

It was all part of the nation's annual homeless count, which is happening in Wichita over a 24-hour period today.

The count is taken in communities across the country on one day in late January. The count is usually done by volunteers going out in the community to count the homeless.

But this year, local organizers decided to include bringing the homeless to a central location in hopes of improving the count's accuracy and to connect them with services that can provide help.

Thirty-one agencies and groups — both public and private — took part in today's event at Expo Hall, providing everything from haircuts and dental screenings to socks and connections to job and mental health services. A lunch was also provided.

"Hopefully, we're providing services they think are helpful," said Luella Sanders of the United Way of the Plains, which organized the event and the outreach count.

Lewis Hall, 46, who is homeless, was benefiting. He got a haircut and won one of the door prizes — a sleeping bag.

"This is wonderful," he said.

Most of the homeless were willing to take part in the 17-question survey, Sanders said. The count is important because communities rely on it to receive federal funding for the homeless.

A local count is still being taken by volunteers going to locations where the homeless congregate.