Update: the location of the meeting has been changed to Hughes Metropolitan Complex, 5015 E. 29th Street N., Room 138. Text in the story has been changed to reflect this.
Concerned about the number of unhoused people living in Wichita and what is – and isn’t – being done to help them? A new task force was created to evaluate Wichita’s homeless population, existing solutions and what still needs to be done. Task force meetings will be held monthly at the Hughes Metropolitan Complex and will be open to the public. The group has met once so far, and meets again on Feb. 22.
The 2022 point-in-time count recorded nearly 700 unhoused people, the highest it’s been in seven years. One hundred were found to be chronically homeless – and nearly half that many died on the streets last year. That’s a number almost twice the previous year’s.
The increased rate of unhoused people – despite 72 programs operating to help alleviate homelessness – and the availability of millions in federal COVID relief money are bringing renewed urgency to the problem.
Who is on the task force?
There are 18 members of the task force, which includes city and county elected officials, law enforcement, nonprofit and church leaders, and at least one person with lived experience of homelessness. All are connected to housing services in some way.
The full list of members is below.
|Sector||Name||Organization or Title|
|City Elected||Maggie Ballard||City Council Member|
|County Elected||Ryan Baty||County Commissioner|
|City Staff||Sally Stang||Housing & Community Services|
|County Staff||Tim Kaufman||Deputy County Manager|
|United Way||Cole Schnieders||Continuum of Care|
|Law Enforcement/Parole||Santiago Hungria||Wichita Police Department|
|Law||Jan Jarman||City of Wichita|
|Mental Health & Substance Abuse Coalition||Dawn Shepler||Executive Director for the Mental Health and Substance Abuse Coalition|
|Project Hope Leadership Council||Angeline Johnson||Project Hope Leadership Council|
|Faith Based||Carl Kirkendoll||Bethany Missionary Baptist Church and Greater Wichita Ministerial League|
|Provider – Homeless||LaTasha St. Arnault||HumanKind|
|Provider – Domestic Violence||Tracey Gay||Wichita Family Crisis Center|
|Business||Jason Gregory||Downtown Wichita|
|Chamber||Ricki Ellison||Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce|
|Education||Denise Lawson||USD 259|
|Lived Experience||Roger Dickinson|
|Landlords||Mike Bell||Bell Commercial and Residential Properties|
|Health||J.V. Johnston||Guadalupe Clinic|
Wasn’t there already a task force?
Wichita last had a task force on homelessness from 2006 to 2008. The city of Wichita and Sedgwick County called it the Taskforce to End Chronic Homelessness (TECH). The task force met over those three years and formulated a plan to try and reduce the number of chronically unhoused people in Wichita. Fifteen years later, many recommendations have yet to be implemented.
TECH did help identify a few services that were eventually implemented such as the 211 hotline number that helps direct people to the services best fit for them.
Despite these efforts, the unhoused population as recorded by the point-in-time counts has not decreased. What isn’t measured is how many people were helped to avoid becoming homeless.
In 2022, the Mental Health and Substance Abuse (MHSA) Coalition formed a short-term, 60-day task force looking at downtown homelessness. That group issued a number of recommendations, which included a more expansive study through a longer-term effort.
What did the MHSA Coalition task force recommend?
The MHSA Coalition’s 60-day task force on downtown homelessness made these recommendations:
- Provide additional flexible, sustainable funding for emergency shelters.
- Create a “very low-barrier shelter” bed space.
- Coordinate street outreach conducted by different organizations.
- Conduct specific outreach to service providers and businesses so that they can discuss and resolve ongoing issues in their area with their assigned community policing officer.
- Provide community de-escalation training and resource training to best prepare downtown stakeholders on crisis situations involving transient populations.
- Develop an education and media campaign to help donors understand where their funds would most be effectively utilized and distributed.
- Develop and install effective signage in areas generally occupied by panhandlers that suggest other ways to donate time, money, or goods to provide positive outcomes for people in need.
- Assist with implementing a long-term solution of building a centralized social service hub/campus where service providers are in one place and can have a “warm handoff” to other providers.
What topics might the new task force cover?
The task force is updating all of its members on existing services for the homeless population and housing-insecure in Wichita. This includes the 72 nonprofit agencies that are part of the United Way’s Continuum of Care, Wichita Police’s Homeless Outreach Team and faith-based ministries to unhoused people.
The task force will also examine problems that contribute to housing insecurity, such as addiction, mental health, prison history and lack of support for veterans. The task force wants to hear from people with lived experience on what shortcomings they encountered while housing-insecure.
When and where do they meet?
The task force will meet once a month. Their next meeting is Feb. 22 at 3:30 p.m. at the Hughes Metropolitan Complex in room 138. The street address is 5015 E. 29th Street North.
How can I be involved?
If you have lived experience, contact one of the task force members about speaking at one of their upcoming meetings. While they already have one member with lived experience, they need to hear from more viewpoints to get a complete understanding of Wichita’s shortcomings with housing.
If you are involved with one of the organizations involved with the task force, talk with your representative on the task force about how you can help them. Currently, the task force is seeking information from its members and their organizations.
And, if you just want to provide input or information, you can also contact Dulcinea Rakestraw at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Otherwise, you may attend the public meetings and observe.
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