Hope on homelessness

There may never be a “mission accomplished” banner, given the nature of the mission. Still, the community’s work countering homelessness continues to be real and inspirational.

Four years ago, officials at Sedgwick County and the city of Wichita assembled a Task Force to End Chronic Homelessness to tackle the problem. And rather than take up shelf space, the task force’s to-do list is generating impressive results.

“This isn’t going to go away, but we’re better than we were,” Jack Focht, chairman of the steering committee implementing the city-county plan, told The Eagle editorial board.

„øEmergency shelter beds? Check. That recommendation has taken the form of the Warming Souls Winter Overflow Shelter, thanks to the dedication and hard work of the Advocates to End Chronic Homelessness and donors such as those who recently answered the group’s call for more dollars to operate through this winter.

„ø“Housing First” program, to give homeless individuals the stability of their own subsidized apartments and access to support services? That’s under way, too (though it could use more funding and more than the 60-plus units available).

„øOne-stop resource and referral center? That’s coming soon to Second and Topeka, as of last week’s announcement that United Methodist Open Door just received a $500,000 challenge grant from the Michigan-based Kresge Foundation and a resulting $200,000 pledge from a major Wichita employer. Open Door is just $1.3 million short of the $5.4 million it needs to renovate the building and open the center next fall.

“It’s been a long journey,” Open Door executive director Deann Smith told the editorial board.

Now, more people need to help Open Door reach its destination, so the community’s needy can benefit from what promises to be a collaborative array of information, resources and support under one convenient, safe roof.

In another wonderful move that stands to help the community’s poor, the Catholic Diocese of Wichita announced plans last week to open a second location of the Lord’s Diner. Like the first one at Central and Broadway, the new one will serve dinner to all comers — no questions asked — in the Planeview area in southeast Wichita.

Just as the Lord’s Diner has tried to respond to the growing numbers of hungry in our city, including the families of the working poor, the city-county effort will need to update its plans to reflect the hard times. More and more, Focht said, even the chronically homeless can include not just individuals but also couples and whole families — combinations that can be harder to house and serve. There also is more work to be done to help the kids who are aging out of the foster-care system into homelessness.

As the county and city elected leadership undergoes changes in the coming months, those public partnerships must stay the course. For government, of course, this isn’t entirely selfless. With the Housing First program, for example, “we’re saving money. We’re saving people going to jail, and we’re saving people going to the emergency rooms,” Focht said.

All those who’ve worked so hard on the homelessness issue should take heart and gather strength from their successes. Meanwhile, more businesses, individuals, foundations and faith groups should sign on to help. Considering what’s been achieved already amid such a tough economy, there’s no telling what could be accomplished with more money, more time and more converts to the cause.