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Archive for Tuesday, December 10, 2002

Homeless needs increase statewide as budget cuts swell

December 10, 2002

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When he ran out of options in Emporia, Robert Marx came to Lawrence.

Homeless and missing his left leg because of a car accident four years ago, Marx said he wasn't getting the help he needed in Emporia.

"It was too small of a community," the 40-year-old man said last week. "The services down there, there wasn't no funding to the small cities."

Marx received help almost immediately upon arriving in Lawrence.

He was directed to Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center for help with alcohol addiction and a bipolar disorder, found a place to eat at the Lawrence Interdenominational Nutritional Kitchen and a place to sleep at The Salvation Army :quot; although he complains that the floor mats used for sleeping there are hard for him to use because of his missing leg.

Overall, though, Marx thought he made a good decision coming to Lawrence.

"It's very excellent," he said. "I was in town one day, and the next I was hooked up with all these services."

Marx is one of an increasing number of poor and homeless in Lawrence. That increase, in combination with cuts in state aid to social services, is putting a new strain on agencies.

Statewide trend

"The numbers of working poor who have walked through our door have increased dramatically," said Tami Clark, director of the Community Drop-in Center. "It's really hard to make the resources stretch to cover all the people we serve."

The latest round of cuts - a $49 million hit for the Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services - worries Clark.

Lawrence Police officer Leo Souders talks with a homeless person on
Massachusetts Street to see if he needed assistance getting to a
shelter. More homeless are seeking Lawrence services, officials
report.

Lawrence Police officer Leo Souders talks with a homeless person on Massachusetts Street to see if he needed assistance getting to a shelter. More homeless are seeking Lawrence services, officials report.

"It's definitely going to send more people our way," she said. "Every service agency is going to be stressed on top of the stress that's already happening."

It's a trend reflected statewide. Homeless shelters across Kansas are seeing more demand for their services.

In Wichita, shelters are full. An overflow shelter opened there last week to care for record numbers of people seeking refuge.

"During cold winter months, there is not enough room," said the Rev. Sam Muyskens, executive director of that city's Inter-Faith Ministries.

Muyskens said Wichita-area officials thought more people would be seeking shelter this year than at any other time in the overflow shelter's 12-year history. The shelter is open from December through February.

"We are seeing far more people seeking food and emergency services," Muyskens said.

Robert Marx, a local homeless man, gets a push by a friend as they
head to LINK for lunch Thursday afternoon. Shelters and other
agencies are reporting more people using their services even as
state funding dwindles.

Robert Marx, a local homeless man, gets a push by a friend as they head to LINK for lunch Thursday afternoon. Shelters and other agencies are reporting more people using their services even as state funding dwindles.

Layoffs, economy

Shara Gonzales, director of New Beginnings Inc. shelter in Hutchinson, said her shelter reached capacity in 1994 and has had a waiting list since. The shelter can house 22 people, but the number of people seeking shelter peaked at 78 in June and stayed about the same since.

"We are seeing more and more families in cars, and that didn't used to be the case here," she said.

It was a trend that started with welfare reform, as many families lost benefits when they were unable to comply with the welfare-to-work programs, Gonzales said. The problem has grown as more people lose their jobs.

"The layoffs and economic downturn have made a significant impact on people who would never ask for our services," Gonzales said.













Back in Lawrence, Clark agreed.

"Now there's not as many jobs out there," she said.

Her center is serving 50 people a day, up from 33 a year ago. LINK is serving lunch to 123 people a day, up from an average of 100 last year, and recently served lunch to 160 people.

Board member Arlyne McGaugh said more families were taking meals at LINK. The church volunteers who provide food and manpower at the kitchen are managing to keep up with the increased demand.

"The groups that are serving have added to what they're bringing," she said. "So far, we're OK."

Gary Miller, who coordinates homeless programs for Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center, said the weak economy had brought more people to his program.

"Here in the last few months I've seen an increase in the number of people I've been serving," he said.

Miller said he believed newcomers to town, like Marx, were a minority of those needing help.

"I don't see that, 'Hey let's go to Lawrence because of the services,'" Miller said. "There are a few who do, but for the most part it's community people and a community problem."

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