Editor’s note: This story is being re-published with permission from The Wichita Eagle through the Wichita Journalism Collaborative.
HumanKind Ministries will open its emergency winter shelter next month after all.
The announcement comes a week after the nonprofit, formerly Interfaith Ministries, said it would be unable to open its facility, which provides an escape from bitter weather.
“HumanKind is happy to announce that, after discussions with the City of Wichita and Sedgwick County, HumanKind will be able to make upgrades to their current facility to at least open at a reduced capacity, serving 100 men and 40 women this winter at 841 N. Market,” reads a statement issued jointly by Scott Eilert, chair of the nonprofit board, and County Commissioner Ryan Baty.
The target date for opening the facility is Nov. 15.
HumanKind requested and received $200,000 to operate from the city in 2021 and 2022, but COVID-19 relief dollars have been exhausted, creating a precarious situation for Wichita’s rising unsheltered population. Of the 702 people accounted for in the most recent point in time count in January, 155 were staying outside overnight.
The announcement does not say what if any financial support HumanKind will receive from government agencies that have been involved in intensive talks over the last week.
“Together as community partners the City of Wichita, Sedgwick County, and HumanKind will come to a viable solution for our homeless neighbors,” the release states. “We are confident in the direction we are headed . . . This is truly a community effort and will only be solved by community and government partners collaborating together to create and fund both short- and long-term solutions.”
Representatives for HumanKind did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
“From the City’s end, those conversations are ongoing,” city spokesperson Megan Lovely told The Eagle in an email. “We remain dedicated to working with our partners to provide housing for our unhoused residents this winter.”
“The County is in the same position — continuing conversations and dedicated to finding solutions together with our partners,” county spokesperson Nicole Gibbs said in an email.
Wichita Mayor Brandon Whipple said at a forum on affordable housing earlier this week that he would personally open up City Hall to the needy and serve coffee if it came to that.
A number of nonprofit agencies make up the continuum of care that provides emergency shelter options for people who find themselves without somewhere to stay. Some serve only men, only women, or other specific groups, including veterans.
“No one should ever have to die on the street,” said Matt Lowe, community impact manager for basic needs at United Way of the Plains. He said he knew of nearly 30 people who died on the streets last winter.
Officer Nate Schwiethale with the Wichita Police Department’s Homeless Outreach Team told leaders at a round table discussion Friday morning that the number of deaths was actually higher last winter.
“I believe it was 48 (deaths),” Schwiethale said. In a normal winter, 10 to 15 people die on the streets and in tents, he said.
Mental health and substance abuse often loom large in conversations surrounding homelessness, Baty said. But there’s more to it than that.
“For those that are providers in our community, they would tell you that the number-one cause of homelessness isn’t actually mental health and substance abuse. It’s actually a lack of affordable housing,” Baty said.
A history of evictions, lack of ID cards and previous felony convictions, including from decades ago, are all factors that contribute to keeping people on the streets when landlords won’t accept people’s affordable housing vouchers, Schwiethale said.