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Determining The Extent Of The Homeless Population In Wichita

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Abigail Wilson
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The United Way of the Plains holds an annual event called the Point In Time Homeless Count every January. It’s an effort to make sure local homeless agencies have a good feel for the extent of the homeless population in Wichita. Pat Hanrahan is the President of United Way.

“The Point In Time Homeless Count is an activity that's required by HUD to get federal funds to come into the Wichita area," Hanrahan says. "Several years ago we decided that the best way to do that was to have a big common event where the homeless people could come together and we could count them but in the process of counting them we could also provide other services to them.”

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) uses the numbers from the count to allocate funds to the community based on need. But the event has grown to more than just a roll call. A variety of services are offered to the homeless.

“For example, we offer free haircuts," Hanrahan says. "A lot of the people coming in got flu shots. We also offered them some of the various homeless programs that are available in the community. They receive socks, hats, and gloves, even get hearing and dental screenings, shots, things like that that help their health. Communicable diseases know no boundaries, so it's very important that we're able to help their health as well as give them some of the nice things.”

Numbers for this year’s homeless count are still being tallied, but last year there were 631 people determined to be homeless in Wichita. 191 were female, and 440 were male. Of those people, 25 percent were children. To be included in the count, Hanrahan says a homeless person must meet certain criteria.

“There're different definitions of homeless," he says. "This Point In Time Count is for the chronically homeless which means that they've had several bouts of being on the streets in the last three years. A lot of the children that are counted as homeless may be staying on the couch in the living room of a friend’s house. They're not in some kind of a permanent housing in a family situation.”

The definition also includes a diagnosed disabling condition that keeps adults from getting full-time employment. Another main goal of the Point In Time Homeless Count is to get people in touch with resources that can help them to find housing and jobs as well as finding resources to support them.

“I don't think anybody really wants to be homeless," Hanrahan says. "There's that stereotype of the bum that doesn't want to work, and I suppose that person is out there but a lot of these homeless have issues. They have mental health issues. They have addiction issues and drug and alcohol types of issues. They have anger issues that maybe keep them from holding a job. Those are the kinds of things that we are dealing with.”

Hanrahan says it takes several months for the Point In Time Homeless Count numbers to be finalized, but he expects the homeless population for this year to be around 600 people.

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Follow Abigail Wilson on Twitter, @AbigailKMUW