As Wichita’s winter shelter closes, providers and unhoused grapple with insufficient resources

KMUW | By Celia Hack

Providers said that there’s not enough shelter beds to house the people who are leaving the emergency winter shelter.

The emergency winter homeless shelter near 21st and Grove closed Monday morning, leaving dozens of people looking for housing options at a resource fair downtown.

Many are unlikely to find an open shelter bed, city officials say.

“We do not have enough shelter beds for everybody,” said Brandy Niblett, senior housing specialist with the city of Wichita’s Housing and Community Services department. “And a lot of our individuals that are here right now will be unsheltered on the streets.”

Adquenia Moore is one of them. She said she stayed at the emergency shelter through most of March, walking miles between it and the McDonald’s where she works in northwest Wichita.

Now that it’s closed, she said sleeping on the streets looks like her only option because she can’t find any open shelter beds for women.

“This is going to be my first time,” Moore said. “And it’s really scary.”

Moore said she is supposed to receive a housing voucher in the coming weeks, so she’s hoping the need to sleep outside is temporary.

Wichita needs more than 300 shelter beds for adults and 16 units for families, according toa 2023 plan detailing how the city will spend federal COVID dollars. The report noted a particular lack of shelter for women, a need that’s increased since the Salvation Army’s shelter for women and children closed last summer.

The emergency homeless shelter at 21st and Grove could sleep up to 250 people, and it housed men and women. More than 1,000 individuals used it since it opened last December, said Brie Ireton, program manager for homeless services at HumanKind Ministries. On the shelter’s busiest night in January, more than 200 people stayed there.

But the shelter location, which was new this year, was also temporary: HumanKind and the city assured the nearby neighborhood that they would close April 1.

A spokesperson for the shelter said they don’t yet know how many people stayed at the shelter Sunday night, but Ireton estimated last week it would likely be between 120 and 140. Ireton said the agency’s 60-bed year-round emergency shelter — The Inn — will be full tonight.

“We’ve actually already taken some of the clients from the winter shelter and enrolled them in that program,” Ireton said.

HumanKind offered remaining clients at the emergency shelter rides downtown Monday so they could visit the resource fair.

Nonprofits, government agencies and businesses at the fair offered free resources and connections to programs that might help with housing, health care or mental health. Paul Mitchell’s Barber School brought 30 students to give free haircuts to anyone who might want one.

“Usually when we come out into the community, our tent is always full,” said Mateo Hernandez, a barber instructor with Paul Mitchell. “Like, everybody always wants a haircut.”

Students from the Paul Mitchell Barber school were at the resource fair giving free haircuts. (Kylie Cameron/KMUW)

The resource fair drew a broad variety of people, including some who weren’t staying at the emergency shelter. Minnie Kelly said she’s been sleeping on the street for about a week after she could no longer stay with a friend.

She said the lack of shelter space, specifically for women, gravely impacts her.

“It’s hard for females out here,” Kelly said. “There’s often times where safety is an issue. A lot of times – 99% of the pregnancies out here are not of consent.”

Kelly said getting an ID card is one of the largest challenges to getting into housing, but she’s recently made progress and will soon pick hers up.

Others were not homeless but simply faced escalating housing costs. Thomas Hendrix said his rent increased by $200 a month starting Jan. 1, which is eating into his monthly fixed income.

Hendrix said the resources handed out at the fair – from toilet paper to socks – meant he could conserve his limited budget.

“It was a big help to me,” Hendrix said. “That’s stuff I don’t have to buy.”

Plans for next year’s winter shelter are not complete.

“We continue to work with our community partners on the location for the 2024 winter shelter,” said Sally Stang, Director of the City of Wichita’s Housing and Community Services Department. “We don’t have details to share, but we appreciate the providers who helped keep the unhoused community safe this winter,”

KMUW’s Kylie Cameron contributed reporting.

This article was republished here with the permission of: KMUW