WICHITA, Kansas — As the U.S. economy continues its recovery, many cities are seeing an increase in homelessness and hunger. Sedgwick County is no different.
Every two years, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requires a point in time count of homeless people across the country. The count for Sedgwick County was released Friday and showed that our area has seen more than 17-percent increase in homelessness since last year.
The Union Rescue Mission is dedicated to providing a warm bed and a roof over the head of many men in our area that are homeless. On any given night, an average of 152 men come through the shelter. That’s a number that has continued to rise over the years.
“There were about a 6.3 percent increase in the number of men who came to us,” said Executive Director Denny Bender, Union Rescue Mission.
The United Way and various other agencies conducted the 2014 point-in-time homeless count in late January.
The one-day event in counted 631 people in Sedgwick County as homeless, including those who were in a temporary shelter at the time.
A large increase from the 538 counted at the same time in 2013.
“That’s not surprising given the fact that we’ve gone through the worst recession since the Great Depression here in Wichita the past six years,” said Pat Hanrahan, United Way of the Plains president.
While many of the people they surveyed are recovering from addiction or mental illness. The discomforting part comes from those who’ve been hit the hardest by the ever-changing economy.
“When you’ve had layoffs as long as we’ve had in our community, it does have an impact on people who’ve lived right on the margin — a paycheck to paycheck kind of family situation,” said Hanrahan.
Hanrahan says he was surprised to see the numbers increase so much and said it is crucial that something is done to turn these people’s lives around.
“If we return them back to productive life, they’re happier, crime goes down, they become taxpayers. It’s just a win-win for everybody.”
Some other startling statistics showed that 107 people in the count suffered from chronic homelessness, meaning they’ve had bouts without shelter at least four times over three years.
Both Hanrahan and Bender say organizations here are making a concerted effort to decrease the rising number of homeless people and will continue.
See chart showing more details of the homeless count here: www.unitedwayplains.org/2014homelesscount.