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Archive for Sunday, April 8, 2012

In Johnson County, homelessness significant but harder to see

April 8, 2012

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Heather Miller, 22, gets a kiss from her 17-month-old daughter, Shylin James. Miller and her daughter are residents at The Salvation Army Family Service Center in Olathe.

Heather Miller, 22, gets a kiss from her 17-month-old daughter, Shylin James. Miller and her daughter are residents at The Salvation Army Family Service Center in Olathe.

Office assistant Pamela Gates stands inside a room that a family of four shares at The Salvation Army Family Service Center in Olathe. A set of bunk beds is just a few feet inside the door of the one-room unit.

Office assistant Pamela Gates stands inside a room that a family of four shares at The Salvation Army Family Service Center in Olathe. A set of bunk beds is just a few feet inside the door of the one-room unit.

Methods of counting

Two separate measures for identifying the homeless population are used in this article. Here’s the difference:

• The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development conducts a Point-in-Time Homeless Count every two years in January. This measure reflects the number of homeless identified during a survey conducted across the country on one specific day. Every other year, the count seeks to identify the number of homeless people in a shelter on one particular day. This type of survey, however, often fails to identify those “doubled up” with friends or family.

• The U.S. Department of Education requires that public schools try to identify the number of homeless students in schools. This measure is more encompassing than the Point-in-Time count and includes any student not in a permanent living situation. Homeless students are eligible for additional services from the school district.

Student numbers

Number of homeless students in the six Johnson County public school districts (Blue Valley, Spring Hill, Gardner-Edgerton, De Soto, Olathe and Shawnee Mission):

• 2007-08: 323

• 2008-09: 576

• 2009-10: 746

• 2010-11: 902

— Numbers reported to the U.S. Department of Education by the school districts.

Walk through downtown Lawrence, and there’s a chance you’ll spot someone who looks homeless, or maybe you’ll run across a panhandler.

And with the region’s largest shelter, the Lawrence Community Shelter, located downtown, homelessness has a visible presence in the city.

But in Johnson County, which, according to the Point-in-Time Homeless Count, actually has more homeless people than Douglas County — 315 to 226 identified in 2011 — the issue appears hidden.

“You don’t see them,” said Valorie Carson, who coordinates homeless services for United Community Services of Johnson County.

In Johnson County, Carson said, the face of homelessness is somewhat different than other communities, as the area doesn’t have as high a concentration of single, homeless people. It’s mostly families, doubled up with relatives or living in cars, trying to hide their housing situation, she said.

The increasing number of homeless students in the six Johnson County public school districts also reflects a growing increase in homeless families. Since the 2007-08 school year, the number of homeless students has nearly tripled, up to more than 900, during the 2010-11 year. The definition of homelessness used by schools is different than that in the federal Point-in-Time count, which is why the student numbers are much higher.

“No one wants to think it’s in their backyard,” said Kim Brabits, Catholic Charities’ director of emergency assistance for Johnson County. “But it’s there.”

And most homeless families in Johnson County are scattered somewhere other than shelters, as the county has two small shelters that can house only up to about 60 people.

Many in need

Heather Miller, 22, and her 17-month-old daughter, Shylin, are among the Johnson County homeless fortunate to have temporary housing.

Since January, Miller and Shylin have lived at the Salvation Army’s Johnson County Lodge, a homeless shelter for families. Eighty families are on its waiting list.

Miller, who is expecting a second child in August, lost her job as a waitress because she wasn’t able to coordinate day care for her daughter. Miller and Shylin’s father split up, and Miller bounced around “couch-surfing” for five months before entering the shelter.

“Things were looking grim,” said Miller, who was fearful of losing her child to state custody. “I cried my eyes out.”

For the past two months, Miller and Shylin have been living at the shelter, which is 10 converted motel rooms in Olathe. It isn’t glamorous, but it’ll do as Miller saves for her own place. Some of the families cram four people into the 12-foot by 12-foot rooms.

Miller’s story of homelessness is typical, say advocates from the network of social service agencies working with the homeless in Johnson County.

A lost job, a few unfortunate situations, or a lack of strong family support are drawing more people into homelessness.

“There have been a lot of people who are at the edge,” Carson said. With the bad economy, “they fell.”

Miller’s hunt for a job is consistent with the other stories Carson hears. Miller spent six months looking for work, but no luck.

“I applied anywhere and everywhere,” Miller said.

“We were always able to get people employed” in Johnson County, Carson said, but that’s not the case anymore.

Strain on services

The increase in the area’s homelessness continues to strain the area’s social service agencies, Brabits said.

“Sometimes it’s just piecemeal,” said Brabits, describing how the few agencies work together, cobbling together resources for the homeless. “It’s heartbreaking when you run out of funds.”

There doesn’t seem to be a consensus among Johnson County social service agencies about whether the number of homeless will continue to grow in the county. The 2009 Point-in-Time Homeless Count — which is mandated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and seeks to identify the number of homeless across the country — showed 210 homeless people in Johnson County in 2009. That number grew 50 percent, to 315, in 2011. Another count will be conducted in 2013.

Even though the social system is stressed and the numbers to keep growing, Miller credits the advocates in helping her climb out of homelessness.

Miller obtained her Certified Nursing Assistant license, and is working full-time, making $9.50 an hour. In a short time, Miller said she thinks she’ll have enough saved for a two-bedroom apartment.

“Just keep working,” Miller said.

By this time next year, Miller said she hopes to be able to “take care of my family without having to rely on someone else.”

Comments

Dan Eyler 2 years ago

After two years of trying to support my daughter age 24 who has a child I gave up. I love her with all my heart but all she wanted was handouts. More food stamps, more government day care, but she never wanted to work full time. I moved her back to Lawrence and let her live in the house again, but same old story. I gave her another 60 days to get a job, but no movement, no seriousness so I asked her to leave. Now she is with a friend who is pretty much in the same boat. I told her I will provide for my grand daughter when the bottom falls out but I will not let her move back in. My sister adopted two kids and she is also willing to take in my grand daughter as well. But I have learned that until she is willing to put her child first and work full time she will not turn this around. She still needs to finish a high school class for her diploma but she wont go to the adult learning center to finish the credit. There is only so much that strong family can do before enough is enough. All I need to see is work no pity party. It is tough but I am certain now that if you don't cut them off they won't try very hard. My house is always open to my grand daughter when that time comes.

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Stacy Napier 2 years ago

The title says it all. Johnson county Homeless are harder to see. You know why? because in Johnson County the shelters are not some dump that all the drunks hang out in front of. They are shelters for families and working people. They look like a large home or apartment complex.

Haiku said it all

"Heather Miller's story illustrates how someone can take positive steps to improve a bad situation. People like Heather are the reason drunks should not be allowed at the shelter. Drunks and homeless-by-choice people are basically stealing resources and money from homeless families who are trying to get back on their feet. Imagine how many more families and children could be helped if the shelter beds weren't occupied by drunks and career panhandlers."

AND THAT IS WHY LAWRENCE LOOKS LIKE IT HAS A PROBLEM.

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Antonym 2 years ago

The locusts are all coming from California cause the money trees died there. Now they are stripping the branches in JOCO. The smart ones move on to liberal Larrytown and free shelter. Build it and they will come. Don't blame them. I would do the same thing if my family was starving.

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patkindle 2 years ago

Hobos are people who move around looking for work, tramps are people who move around but don't look for work, and bums are people who don't move and don't work but teh bums like lawrence because we take such good care of them

most local artists kind of work, but are not looking for real work they just want to be "kept" like the bums in lawrence

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Christine Anderson 2 years ago

Just wait until some of you have been there....

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1029 2 years ago

You go, Heather! Mean people might try to say you are dumb and selfish for bringing a child into this world even though you couldn't afford it. They might even say you are really, really, really dumb for getting pregnant a second time. But it is our right as Americans to have children whenever we want! This is the American Way, just like our parents and their parents, and on and on. My advice to you would be to get as many credit cards as possible and you can make this situation work out! Money now when you need it most, and then you can repay it later.

I also advise everybody to buy a house. Don't throw your money away on rent. The house will be worth more and more money every year, and you can always just sell it for a profit if you need to. Even if you are paycheck to paycheck right now, say you find a job that pays $20,000 a year. That's 1 million dollars over 50 years! You can buy nice TVs, a really nice car, all the fanciest electronics, and a nice house for that much. May as well doing these things right away so you can enjoy them and then worry about paying later.

Hold your head up! Cheers!

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George Lippencott 2 years ago

And oh by the way the SA generally does not mix populations and requires that those they accept work to get themselves out of homelessness. Another reason why my comment directed at Heather was wrong. BUT that does not negate my comment on the system in general where government programs do not necessarily encourage people to find independence and self-respect. Faith based programs have more flexibility to make such demands

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Haiku_Cuckoo 2 years ago

Heather Miller's story illustrates how someone can take positive steps to improve a bad situation. People like Heather are the reason drunks should not be allowed at the shelter. Drunks and homeless-by-choice people are basically stealing resources and money from homeless families who are trying to get back on their feet. Imagine how many more families and children could be helped if the shelter beds weren't occupied by drunks and career panhandlers.

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northtowngrl 2 years ago

+100 Or enroll in a reading comprehension program. I also did not see anywhere in the article that she did not want to work because she had kids. She lost her job because of day care issues. Different thing entirely, but you just keep on pretending that she is lazy, and irresponsible if it makes you feel better. The rest of us are better than that.

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demonfury 2 years ago

Ship them all here to Lawrence. Loring will be as happy as a pig in slop. Guaranteed job security and he can soak the taxpayer for even more money. He's already had George Stenopolous here glamorizing his efforts, and now this article invites them because Douglas county has the largest shelter in the region conveniently located downtown. It almost felt like Shaun Hittle was selling Lawrence as the "go to" place for the homeless. Not surprising to me. If you feed them, they will come. And once here, Loring will give them everything else they need to remain exactly as they are - homeless. If there was legitimate accountability and regulations on the program here, I would support it in an effort to honestly help people in genuine need to better their situations. That;s not what Loring is about. Oh, he'll tell you that's what he's about. He'll go on national TV and lie to society. He'll beg the city and county for money month after month to make sure he has a job. But it's not what he's about at all. An honest & accountable person wouldn't allow drunks and drug addicts into the shelter to sleep off their chemicals while pissing themselves, all the while kids are in the same facility. And he allows this day after day. That's what Loring does, he's an enabler to drunks and addicts by giving them all they need to stay that way.. He's not helping them, he's hindering the opportunities of people who truly need the shelter but won't go there because of how it's operated. But it's good business and job security so long as we keep electing liberal idiots that keep him doing his job without any oversight or accountability. If you really want to help the homeless, fire Henderson immediately, hire a real director, and mandate accountability regulations on the staff and the shelter. Mandate reports of productivity and accomplishment on a monthly basis. No watered down crap that Loring spews out to the commission. Real data with verifiable results. Make that happen and watch what happens to the homeless issue here. It will decline dramatically because the abusers of the program won't have a free ride any longer. They will go to where they can get it. But, that's not likely to happen with a heavily democrat commission and community. Could that be a part of the reason why Douglas County keeps declining year after year? Food for thought.

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George Lippencott 2 years ago

Advocates opine: Miller’s story of homelessness is typical, say advocates from the network of social service agencies working with the homeless in Johnson County. A lost job, a few unfortunate situations, or a lack of strong family support are drawing more people into homelessness."

Moderates Comments

Does Miller have any responsibility? She has no skills, entered into a shaky marriage, has kids and argues that because of them she cannot work. Sounds to me like a whole bunch of poor choices leaving the rest of us to pick up the pieces and spend a lot of taxpayer dollars.

Where is the program that helps her acquire skills and move on to personal responsibility and independence? Could we hear about those? Or do we spend all our public resources on fostering dependency.

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kernal 2 years ago

I find it interesting that Johnson County, the richest county in Kansas, only has two shelters which can only accomodate 60 people. Small wonder homeless families come to Lawrence from Johnson County.

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FalseHopeNoChange 2 years ago

Get them RV's to park by the Park on Mass.

Use some of the T buses as RVs to further "social justice" offerings.

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50YearResident 2 years ago

What does this tell you about Douglas Co vs Johnson Co Homeless situation?

2006 population by County

Douglas...........112,000 Johnson...........516,000

Nearly 5 times more people in Jo Co and the homeless situation has about the same numbers. Thanks to Henderson's Folley

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Paul R Getto 2 years ago

Kids who are 'couch-surfing' with relatives or friends and who have no permanent residence are also considered homeless. You don't have to live under the bridge down by the river.

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Adrienne Sanders 2 years ago

How can there be 315 homeless people in the county and yet 902 homeless in the school systems?

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geekin_topekan 2 years ago

Freakin homeless people are the enemy! Maybe someone could buy Heather a bottle of aspirin like Rush suggests.

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sad_lawrencian 2 years ago

So sad to hear about Heather Miller.

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