Topeka A report released Wednesday shows a startling decrease in the number of homeless people in Kansas, especially in Lawrence, but community officials say the statistics need further review.
And Gov. Mark Parkinson said despite the reports’ findings “we must remain committed to ensuring that no one should have to sleep on the streets or go hungry.”
Nearly 600 volunteers in 36 counties participated in the Kansas Point-in-Time project, surveying those perceived to be homeless on Jan. 28 and questioning them on where they spent the last night and their status.
The report represents a snapshot of homelessness. An estimated 1,811 people in Kansas were homeless that night, down from 2,111 in 2007, which is a 14 percent drop, the report said.
The percentage decrease in the number of homeless people was much greater in Lawrence, dropping from 318 in a 2008 count to 112. The city of Lawrence does an annual count, while a statewide count is only done once every two years.
Margene Swarts, assistant director of planning and development services for the city of Lawrence, and who has been involved in the homeless counts, said she doubted there has been such a significant decrease in the number of homeless in Douglas County.
“It would be unwise for people to compare this count with previous counts,” Swarts said.
The 2009 count represented the first time the survey was coordinated statewide, officials said. But even so, the report frequently cautions about its findings.
“Some counties expended considerable effort to include everyone who might possibly have been homeless, while others concentrated their focus on those more closely matching the ‘typical’ picture of homeless individuals,” the report said.
Different methodologies probably led to such a great disparity in results, Swarts said.
Erika Dvorske, president and chief executive of the United Way of Douglas County, which helped coordinate the count with other United Way organizations, agreed.
“I’m always going to be cautious about any statistics,” Dvorske said. “Some folks who are homeless simply don’t want to be counted. It’s likely that it is higher,” she said of the number reported in the study.
Other findings of the statewide study found:
• One in five homeless people in Kansas are children under age 18.
• Nearly 200 people were staying in places not meant for habitation, such as alleyways, parks and river banks.
• About one in three homeless respondents said they had a serious mental illness.
Swarts said advocates for homeless people will be analyzing the report in the coming weeks. The 2009 study will be used as a benchmark for future reports, she said.
She said while she doesn’t believe there has actually been such a significant decrease in the number of homeless people -- especially in the current economic downturn -- progress across the state is being made in finding transitional housing for homeless people.
The report comes as homeless advocates grapple with ensuring there are enough places for homeless people to seek shelter in Lawrence.
Earlier this month, the Salvation Army in Lawrence closed its overnight shelter in favor of working on helping homeless people find transitional housing.
A temporary shelter has been set up at the Lawrence Interdenominational Nutrition Kitchen, 221 W. 10th St., at the First Christian Church.