Some families struggling with homelessness crash at the homes of friends or they sleep in cars by the lake, advocate Katherine Dinsdale said.
"They're just hidden," said Dinsdale, of the Community Commission on Homelessness. "It really is a pervasive problem."
It is this population of homeless families that Joe Reitz hopes to reach. Reitz, a retired Kansas University professor and former CEO of the Leo Center, is the driving force behind the formation of a local Interfaith Hospitality Network to aid homeless families.
Reitz and about 50 others from roughly a dozen local churches convened at First Baptist Church on Tuesday in an effort to drive the program forward.
"It's time to act," Reitz told the group. "Let's do something, something positive."
The network programs, part of the New Jersey-based Family Promise, offer transitional housing, food and support to families experiencing homelessness. A family would be assisted for roughly 60-90 days with the goal of getting back on their feet and into a stable housing situation.
Families would be screened before entering the program, and those struggling with substance abuse would not be allowed in the program.
Reitz hopes to get the program running by the fall. Organizers have already assessed the need, met with local clergy, and hosted a community meeting to educate the public.
Tuesday's meeting focused on recruiting people to form the support network. Reitz passed out sign-up sheets for the formation of groups to tackle various areas.
The program would require host congregations to provide lodging and meals and a day center of 3,000 to 5,000 square feet where adults could pursue employment and receive case management and laundry and other services would be available. The center would be run by a director. Reitz said the program also would require volunteer assistance and a 15-passenger van for transportation.
The program would assist four or five families at a time. The families would sleep at area churches, with one-week stays at each church, and be bused to the day center for additional services.
Reitz said he would gather feedback in upcoming weeks and hold a follow-up meeting in a few months.
"We need some congregations to seriously decide whether they are going to be a part of this," Reitz said. "I think that's the major task."