Homeless, not faceless

It’s easy and even reassuring to regard the homeless as people whose choices set them apart from the rest of us and whose problems are entirely their own.

Then you hear about somebody like Sean Regan, the 51-year-old man whose body was found Oct. 1 after he drowned in the Arkansas River near downtown.

A carpenter and handyman who had run a remodeling business for several years in Kansas City and lived in Wichita for four years, Regan also was a graduate of Emporia State University, the father of a 16-year-old daughter and, according to his brother, a caring, compassionate and highly competitive person who had played rugby in college and for the Kansas City Blues.

Yet he died homeless in our community, in the river at its heart.

How can that be?

Similarly, how could circumstances have led 61-year-old Michael C. Williams, 55-year-old Robert H. Moses, 57-year-old Paul Stilwell and 46-year-old Donald L. Wescott Jr. to die in a van at Santa Fe Lake in Butler County on Oct. 5? Authorities say that the homeless friends, regulars at the Union Rescue Mission in Wichita, died of carbon monoxide poisoning as they were trying to stay warm in the old Ford van Williams had purchased from the mission a year ago.

Homeless providers have suggested the month actually has seen a sixth victim, a man struck last week by a train downtown while sleeping on the track.

Had Wichita lost half a dozen men in a matter of days to other causes — such as gang violence, drunken driving or natural disaster — the outpouring of concern would be loud and persistent.

These victims’ homelessness, which contributes to such deaths, should not devalue their lives in the community’s eyes.

The best way to remember and honor them is to help the numerous groups that help others in our community experiencing homelessness, whether for the first time or a long time.

One is the Warming Souls Winter Overflow Shelter, sponsored for the past two winters by Advocates to End Chronic Homelessness.

Since an Eagle article earlier this month highlighted the funding needs, the pace of donations has picked up. But AECH still needs nearly $30,000, or about half the budget required to operate from Nov. 1 through March 31. The shelter rotates between downtown churches, serving 475 individuals last winter. Its operation by AECH is a key part of the plan that emerged from the city-county Task Force to End Chronic Homelessness, and AECH has done an impressive job for the past two years, with the help of thousands of donors and volunteers.

Those who work with the homeless forecast that the need for the shelter will be the same or greater this winter, given the numbers of people newly displaced by the harrowing economy. Higher numbers could require a second site, AECH co-chairwoman Janis Cox told The Eagle editorial board Tuesday.

This year the group also must worry about the threat of bedbugs, which are afflicting high-end hotels and homeless shelters alike across the country and could further drive up costs for AECH.

“We’re trusting that God will provide, as he has in the past,” Cox said.

To donate or otherwise help the Warming Souls Winter Overflow Shelter, go to the website www.aechwichita.com.

According to a 2009 count, at least 1,800 people are homeless on any given night in Kansas. Help those close to home by helping our local homeless providers.