A story from Kansas' Ottawa Herald examines the struggle that these organizations have to help the growing number of people.
While many advocates agree prevention is key to combatting poverty at its root sources, that isn’t always possible for smaller charity service organizations like churches, said Lisa Davis, coordinator of the Kansas Statewide Homeless Coalition.
“Rural areas can lack specialized services, especially for serious or complicated problems such as mental illness, and it does not make economic sense to replicate programs found in urban areas,” Davis said.
Based on national demographic data, an estimated 3,400 people in rural Kansas are without permanent housing on any given night and may be living in cars, with other families or camping out, she said.
“Unfortunately, the local police and jails can end up being the ones that deal with the homeless in these areas,” Davis said.
Davis points to a transitional housing program in Paola that has been successful in combatting its local poverty issues. That’s because it has been able to not only provide a place for families to go but to help them tackle their problems once they get there.
When Jay Preston first had a vision to help the struggling families in Miami County, the former pastor knew he needed a fresh approach, rather than duplicating the services that were already in the area but were not helping families cope in the long-term.
He also knew that too often church and charities could provide only short-term assistance. In some cases, they turned families away because their moral compasses did not align with the families’ social situations, he said.
“A lot of people, especially in rural areas, feel judged by church services. Sometimes churches earn that bad reputation, unfortunately,” said Preston, who experienced a bout of homelessnees after dropping out of college in the late 1970s while facing drug and alcohol addiction.
The transitional housing at My Father’s House in Paola, an eastern Kansas city of 5,000, has been in operation only since 2006. But it is already providing housing for up to 42 people and needy families. It has also always had a waiting list of dozens of applications in Linn and Miami counties, which have a combined population of about 40,000.
“Nobody in town even knew there was a need around here,” Preston said. “The assumption was that we’d bring homeless folks from downtown Kansas City here.”
Though families can live at the transitional housing for up to two years, it generally takes only nine to 12 months for a family to get back on its feet, thanks to the extensive case management, counseling, mentoring, budgeting and other life skills offered in the transitional housing communities by case workers and counselors, Preston said.
Preston said he’s been working for the last few years to find ways to partner with other organizations in neighboring counties to develop and implement the self-sufficiency models without creating new non-profits and “reinventing the wheel.”
“We know there is more need than resources, and so the change is needed to be more effective so we can meet more needs,” he said. “Preventing homelessness is much cheaper than continuing to pump money into providing services for the chronically homeless.”