Use of emergency shelters on the rise in Wichita despite mild winter

Homeless shelter. (KSN File)
Homeless shelter. (KSN File)

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Kansas has experienced an overall mild winter so far this year, but as temperatures drop this week, homeless shelters could see more spots fill up.

In fact, the number of people coming to emergency homeless shelters around Wichita this year is on the rise despite warmer weather overall, according to Garland Egerton, the executive director for Inter-Faith Ministries.

“This past year, since the shelter opened in November, we’re seeing a pretty good increase over the previous years as far as both men and women coming into the shelters,” Egerton said.

While there’s been an increase in both men and women, Inter-Faith has seen more women using their emergency shelters over the last year, according to Egerton.

Egerton notes a migration of people from the rural communities; part of a social change occurring in society overall, he said.

Inter-Faith continues to work on improving to meet the needs of the growing demand with new mattresses, bunk beds and new bedding to make people as comfortable as possible, but so far, the increase in people is manageable.

“We’re not seeing enough of an increase in numbers to believe that it’s going to become unmanageable,” Egerton said. “It is something that we’re paying attention to so that we can proactively plan and manage to it.”

But the emergency shelters are considered a last resort for people who aren’t able to get into other types of facilities, he said.

“One of our goals here is to have our case managers come in and work with the folks who come into, both the men and women, to the emergency shelters,” Egerton said.

The purpose of the emergency shelters is just to get men and women back on their feet.

Inter-Faith has a good track record of helping people find that transitional and eventually, permanent housing, Egerton said.

They work ahead of the winter months to keep the number of people who need the emergency shelters as low as possible.

“The goal is to be more proactive during the year and to stay ahead of the curve a little bit,” Egerton said.

Staying ahead of the curve is especially important because weather is the ultimate driving force that brings people into the emergency shelters, Egerton says.

“Our numbers do fluctuate with the weather. A couple of weeks ago when we had the bad weather, the numbers spike tremendously,” he said. “The last week or so where it’s been milder, those numbers have come back down. We’ll see spikes up and down with the weather and with the weather changing this week, we expect to see them go up again at night as those temperatures drop.”

Typically emergency shelters are only open at night but Inter-Faith addresses each situation individually when it comes to weather.

When a bitter storm hit Wichita several weekends ago, the emergency shelters remained open throughout the day to give people a warm place to stay.

Regardless of weather, as we head into 2017, Inter-Faith Ministries will work to keep up with the overall growing number of people using the emergency shelters.

“The goal is always to reduce the number of homeless folks as much as possible,” Egerton said.

For more information on the Inter-Faith shelters, click here.