Lawrence Community Shelter staff member Elizabeth Stevens sits in a small office at the shelter on recent weekday looking at a list, tallying up the total number of people signed up for a spot at the shelter overnight.
Then she deducts families, who get first priority, followed by single adults with jobs and those who volunteer at the shelter, most of whom are guaranteed a spot. Those who are left may or may not have an indoor place to sleep.
On this night, it looks like the numbers of those needing a bed are creeping up toward 100 people. After the shelter fills up at 75 spots, “overflow” space is used at The Salvation Army and other area churches. That’ll house another 20. Do the math and it looks like there’ll be a handful of people without a spot. Stevens said those left out will probably try to stay with friends or camp somewhere in town, which is illegal.
“I dread doing the list,” Stevens said. “It’s stressful. At one point in time it gets to everyone.”
As the shelter has filled up with an increasing number of families, overall numbers have risen as well, said Loring Henderson, shelter director.
“It’s crowded everywhere,” said Henderson, adding that overall numbers at the shelter are as high as they’ve ever been — anywhere from 90 to 120 people look to the shelter for a place to stay every night.
The Annual Point-in-Time Homeless Count, which counts the total number of homeless people identified nationally on one particular day, shows Kansas homeless numbers have actually dropped 4 percent since 2007, to an estimated 2,024 homeless people in the state in 2010. But the local shelter, and shelters across the state, are saying they’re seeing more people at their doors.
Barry Feaker, director of the Topeka Rescue Mission, said his shelter is housing 100 more people per night this year as compared with 2010. Whereas the shelter used to house 35 or so children regularly, they’re routinely seeing 75 to 90, he said, which has accounted for much of the increase.
At the Salina Rescue Mission, which houses only men, numbers have more than doubled this year, said Steve Kmetz, executive director. The shelter housed about 20 men a night in 2010, and sometimes they now see 65 men a night.
Kmetz, along with his shelter director colleagues, is not optimistic that the numbers will go down anytime soon.
“They’re not going away,” he said.
The Lawrence Community Shelter is looking at plans to move to a larger location at 3701 Franklin Park Circle, just east of Douglas County Jail, Henderson said. The new location will house up to 125 people, but it’s not clear yet when such a move would be made.
Meanwhile, Henderson said he’s trying to secure more overflow space in preparation for the winter, when numbers typically rise even more.