Weather

Snow hasn't maxed out overflow shelter

Wichita's overflow homeless shelter hasn't reached capacity during the two big snowstorms this month.

For whatever reason, the numbers were higher in the shelter in January than they have been in February, said Janis Cox, co-chair of Advocates to End Chronic Homelessness, the nonprofit group that oversees the overflow shelter.

"At the beginning of the month, people have a bit of money, so some of them prefer to stay in motels," Cox said.

Last week's snowstorm hit right at the beginning of the month. Some homeless people also may be staying with friends, she said. And the overflow shelter, which rotates among five churches, is currently near Lincoln and Broadway.

Its distance from downtown may be a deterrent, even though transportation is provided for those who want to stay there, Cox said. Some people may not want to go to a place they can't walk to.

The body of a homeless man, Kenneth Calhoun, was found Saturday afternoon behind a building in the 4800 block of East Harry. He had died of exposure. Cox said that the man had used the overflow shelter in previous winters but not this year.

"We heard he'd been staying down south," Cox said. "Maybe he didn't get into the downtown area to check in."

There are places downtown and in northeast Wichita where the homeless can be indoors around the clock.

Homeless people can stay at Open Door's drop-in center at Third and Market during the day and then walk to the Lord's Diner at Central and Broadway for dinner. The check-in for the overflow homeless shelter is next door at the Inter-Faith Inn. From there homeless people are directed or transported to the overflow shelter.

Another place the homeless can stay is the Union Rescue Mission on North Hillside. The mission has a daytime shelter during the winter as well as an emergency shelter at night.

Numbers there, too, have not been up during the snowstorms.

"We're staying kind of the same," said Tom Myers, director of men's ministries. "It's always amazing to me that there's not more."

The number of people eating at the Lord's Diner is down, too. The diner averages 400 people a night, but during these cold, snowy nights, the number has been between 200 and 300, said Jan Haberly, director of volunteers.

"Those are the diehards who need to eat here no matter what. They're managing to get in here," Haberly said. Others stay home and get by on something like peanut butter, she said.

The diner opens its lobby as soon as people start lining up in the late afternoon, Haberly said. Some homeless people also spend their days at the library. It closed early because of the blowing snow last Tuesday, at 5:30 p.m., "and by that time the shelters were starting to open up, and the Lord's Diner was available" where the homeless could take shelter, said library director Cynthia Berner Harris.

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