Homelessness in our communities
By Dave Myers
Southwest Kansas Catholic
Have you ever wondered about the people who stand at the entrance to the Walmart parking lot, or other locations, seeking help? A few dollars, maybe a sandwich?
What are their circumstances? Where do they go at night? Are they homeless? Do they live in shelters? Are they in transition—on their way somewhere and just stopping to get a few bucks to keep going?
Now imagine instead of the faces you see standing on the corner, the faces of children.
Most don’t stand on street corners asking for help—in fact, you would never know that many of them are homeless.
Yet, in Garden City alone, more than 300 school students are considered homeless. Nationwide, 1 in 30 kids are homeless, according to the National Center on Family Homelessness.
Kerri VanMeveren of Amazing Traditions, LLC, is conducting a Needs Assessment on behalf of the Kansas Statewide Homeless Coalition. The study will recognize unmet/ underserved community needs as they relate to services to support the homeless or at-risk homeless population. Additionally, data will be collected to be able to evaluate the demand of the transitional housing services in each region being offered.
VanMeveren explained to several people gathered for a focus group at the Ford County Library in Dodge City that many of those children who are considered homeless are living with extended family. They have a roof over their head, but not a home in the traditional sense. They may not have health insurance. They may experience food insecurity. Their providers may struggle to pay utilities. Their future is in question.
“They can’t call a doctor to keep a cold from turning into pneumonia,” VanMeveren said as an example.
Across Kansas, many other homeless children are living in shelters. They are awaiting foster care, living in cars, in parks or campgrounds, even abandoned buildings.
One hundred and fifty-six school districts throughout Kansas recently identified 9,265 students as being homeless. That’s just the children. Then there are the adults: More than 11 percent of the uninsured population in Kansas are veterans; veterans also account for more than 14 percent of those with “food insecurity” issues.
As a representative of the Kansas Homeless Coalition, VanMeveren was in Dodge City primarily to learn. Thus, the gathering, which included in the audience representatives of several charitable organizations, including Catholic Charities of Southwest Kansas, as well as law enforcement officers, became a sounding board for ideas.
What are some of the causes of homelessness?
The answers came quickly from members of the audience: Loss of financial benefits; mental health issues (those who are uninsured cannot receive treatment or needed medication); and addictions.
“We’ve seen more examples of opioid and heroin addictions,” one person noted.
More causes of homelessness? With the rise in deportations, it’s not uncommon for the breadwinner of the family to be taken away, leaving his or her American-born children without means of support. It was also noted that at times, transients come to Dodge City because of its popular footnote in history. Other homeless persons have a poor rental history, while still others face difficulty due to the lack of affordable housing.
Adding to the problem are unscrupulous landlords: “We’ve seen cases of landlords not following the landlord/tenant act and making people leave within three days” instead of 30 days, as required by law, explained Debbie Snapp, Executive Director of Catholic Charities of Southwest Kansas.
Where do people go for help?
The first answer? “Churches.” They can offer guidance, perhaps a bit of money for emergency help, but parish funds are limited.
Other help organizations suggested included: United Way; Catholic Charities; Salvation Army; Compass Mental Health facility; Manna House in Dodge City; Emmaus House in Garden City; Friendship Feast soup kitchen in Dodge City; and Stepping Stone Shelter and soup kitchen in Liberal; among others. (See the listing at right.)
But soup kitchens are not always easy to find, and sheltered housing is limited.
A Dodge City police officer noted that “it would be nice if we had some sort of a resource guide, a pamphlet we could keep in our visor” that would offer a listing of charitable organizations and contact information designed to help those in any one of a myriad of difficult situations.
What does your community need?
When asked what southwest Kansas needed to offer help to those who are struggling, the first reply was “transportation”. The lack of transportation can be one of the primary reasons why people cannot find nor keep employment. Those communities that do have buses typically see but routes conclude by nightfall. And most rural areas don’t enjoy the luxury of having bus service.
Also suggested as a community need is “an increased awareness of homelessness,” and more advocacy for landlord/tenant issues.
“We’re very fortunate that the library welcomes the homeless, offering a place to get in from the cold during the day,” Snapp said. “We need a place for homeless people to shower, to wash their clothes, to get their mail. It’s very difficult to get a job without a permanent address.”
“Affordable health care,” noted one person, when asked for solutions.
Another participant suggested having a financial advocate available to those facing housing issues: “Slumlords know that people aren’t aware of their rights.”
The challenges can be great, especially in rural communities spread out across the southwest Kansas prairie. One of the greatest enemies to anyone in any difficult station of life is a lack of knowledge regarding what is available to offer them help.
For example, Catholic Charities offers the classes listed above right, along with a plethora of other programs designed with one thing in mind: to help people help themselves.
Also listed at right is the contact information for some of the many help organizations in Southwest Kansas.