Wichita homeless shelter opens for final year

Warming Souls Winter Overflow Shelter opened Tuesday evening, marking the final year the facility will serve Wichita's homeless men and women during the winter.

After three years of overseeing the emergency shelter, Advocates to End Chronic Homelessness co-chairwoman Janis Cox said the group will turn its attention to providing supported housing and jobs to Wichita's homeless.

AECH agreed to open the shelter this season at the request of the Wichita/Sedgwick County Taskforce to End Chronic Homelessness, extending the group's commitment by an additional year.

"We are looking forward to the opportunity to provide a safe and welcoming atmosphere to people who have lost their homes and don't have a place to stay," Cox said.

But the shelter was never intended to be permanent, she said.

"Our group is an advocacy group," she said. "We don't want to be a service provider permanently."

Warming Souls Winter Overflow Shelter provides overnight housing for up to 130 homeless people in Wichita during the winter.

Last year, the shelter housed 622 people, Cox said, up from 373 people in 2008-09, its first year.

The shelter is open to adults daily from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m. through March 31. Dinner and breakfast, a cot and case management services are provided each night. Nursing and legal services will also be offered periodically, Cox said.

Check-in for the men's shelter is at Inter-Faith Inn, 320 E. Central. The shelter will rotate between five churches in or around downtown for the five-month period. The churches can house between 70 and 100 men each night, Cox said.

Mosaic Church, 216 S. Market, will handle check-in and housing for up to 30 women all five months.

Mosaic Church pastor Mike Furches, 51, spent part of Tuesday morning grocery shopping. He and other church members were planning to prepare dinner and breakfast for the women who stayed in the shelter Tuesday night.

"We're excited about doing it," said Furches, whose church already offers a daily drop-in program for Wichita's homeless.

"All of the ladies we will see we already know because of the day program."

Even though Warming Souls is in its last season, Sandy Swank, director of the men's shelter, said homelessness continues to be a problem.

About 634 people in Wichita are homeless, according to a count taken in January. Swank said she expects between 400 and 600 men will use the shelter this winter.

"There's no way to shut off new homeless," said Swank, who is also the director of Housing and Homeless Services at Inter-faith Ministries. "With the way our economy is, people are at their breaking point."