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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 wasnâÂÂt getting the help he needed in Emporia.

âÂÂIt was too small of a community,â the 40-year-old man said last week. âÂÂThe services down there, there wasnâÂÂt no funding to the small cities.âÂÂ

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 âÂÂ: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.

âÂÂItâÂÂs very excellent,â he said. âÂÂI was in town one day, and the next I was hooked up with all these services.âÂÂ

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

âÂÂThe numbers of working poor who have walked through our door have increased dramatically,â said Tami Clark, director of the Community Drop-in Center. âÂÂItâÂÂs really hard to make the resources stretch to cover all the people we serve.âÂÂ

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

âÂÂItâÂÂs definitely going to send more people our way,â she said. âÂÂEvery service agency is going to be stressed on top of the stress thatâÂÂs already happening.âÂÂ

ItâÂÂs 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.

âÂÂDuring cold winter months, there is not enough room,â said the Rev. Sam Muyskens, executive director of that cityâÂÂs 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 shelterâÂÂs 12-year history. The shelter is open from December through February.

âÂÂWe are seeing far more people seeking food and emergency services,â Muyskens said.

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.

âÂÂWe are seeing more and more families in cars, and that didnâÂÂt used to be the case here,â 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.

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

Back in Lawrence, Clark agreed.

âÂÂNow thereâÂÂs not as many jobs out there,â 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.

âÂÂThe groups that are serving have added to what theyâÂÂre bringing,â she said. âÂÂSo far, weâÂÂre OK.âÂÂ

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

âÂÂHere in the last few months IâÂÂve seen an increase in the number of people IâÂÂve been serving,â he said.

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

âÂÂI donâÂÂt see that, âÂÂ'Hey letâÂÂs go to Lawrence because of the services,âÂÂâ Miller said. âÂÂThere are a few who do, but for the most part itâÂÂs community people and a community problem.âÂÂ

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