Wichita As the recession grows stronger, the people who help the poor are bracing for a peak in the wave of new poor people.
At the Catholic Charities St. Anthony Family Shelter, homeless clients looking for jobs are telling staff that there is more competition for jobs at the lower end of the income scale, as people with higher incomes lose their jobs and look for work at the lower end.
Charity officials say there will be a lot more competition in the coming months as laid-off workers run out of benefits and use up help from friends.
“I’m really lucky to have the job I have,” said Brandon Waide, a 21-year-old homeless man living at the shelter. He’s a cook at a Sonic fast-food restaurant 20 hours a week.
More need, less supply
There are more hungry people this year than last year, and donations have shrunk. In the first two months of 2009, there has been a 20 percent increase in the number of clients and a 20 percent decrease in food donations at Catholic Charities, said Teresa Kunze, the organization’s spokeswoman.
Brian Walker at the Kansas Food Bank Warehouse has passed out 234,000 pounds more food to pantries in the first three months of this year than he did in the same three months last year.
United Methodist Open Door’s community food ministry handed out 4,025 boxes of food to families in January and February last year. This year it gave boxes to 5,254 families in the same two months.
At the Lord’s Diner last month, the staff saw a 26 percent increase in people coming in for meals over February the year before. On four or five nights in February, they fed more than 500 people a night, director Wendy Glick said.
Usually June and July are the months when they see numbers like that, she said.
Glick also sees more teens and 20-somethings living on their own and coming in for food.
It’s going to get worse, charity officials said. After the aircraft industry laid off thousands of workers in 2001, it took until 2004 for many people to run out of savings and benefits. They spiked the numbers at food pantries, shelters and other aid organizations then.
Waide, the homeless man, lives at the St. Anthony Shelter with his disabled mother, Beverly Gilliland, and helps her take care of her grandson Isaiah Cox, who is his nephew. Isaiah was born six months ago with water on the brain. He will live with a shunt in his head to drain fluid for the rest of his life.
Catholic Charities built St. Anthony and opened it in August 2007, expanding its shelter for homeless families to 13 rooms.
As staff saw the number of poor rising and anticipated seeing many more in the next few months, they decided to admit only families with children because there was a long waiting list.
The shelter meets basic needs, said Kate McPheeters, the director. But residents are encouraged to look for work, look for solutions to whatever made them homeless, and show a vigorous desire to get out of the shelter and back into jobs and homes.
People who work at the shelter are helpful and encouraging, Waide said.
“They’ve told me how proud they are that I’ve got this job,” he said. “And they’ve told me I’m the man of the house ... but really, I guess I’m the man of the apartment.”
He and his mother have a two-room apartment at the shelter, which gives them all they need to live on until they can find their own apartment — which they’ve done, Gilliland said.
She’s disabled, with herniated spinal disks, she said. They had lined up an apartment outside St. Anthony and expected to move out soon.