First Call For Help of Ellis County has found a new home — one that could give them plenty of room to grow and possibly expand program offerings.
The charity — financially backed by many local churches — relocated to 607 E. 13th during the summer. Organizers were looking for a location that would realize a financial savings and provide a possible option for additional housing assistance, said Executive Director Linda Mills.
“We wanted the property that we purchased … to have some flexible space,” Mills said. “So that if we did want to do a different program or meet part of that housing/homelessness need, we would be able to do so within our property.”
Their new building — formerly the home of a Document Resources office — is long and narrow. There is a large room in the back of the building that is not yet used, and discussions have suggested the possibility of someday converting the space into a few small apartments that could serve as transitional housing for families in serious need.
If so, the families likely would have a shared kitchen, and there would be program requirements they would have to follow, Mills said.
“Part of the requirements would be they would be working. They would be caring for their children adequately,” she said. “They would be learning how to budget and how to save. … The hope would be they would be able to transition out of this type of housing — which really isn’t ideal for a family — into their own place.”
For now, it’s just a possibility, and many details will need to be decided. But homelessness and families struggling to pay rent is a significant need for many in the community, she said, and a key area of First Call’s programming.
The agency conducts a homelessness count every January, and last year’s indicated approximately 16 families without stable housing — and there’s usually more instances that go unreported. Homelessness looks different in rural Kansas than in a large city, with some families possibly living in hotel rooms or with friends or relatives, she said.
“Because I think in rural Kansas things are different than in Kansas City, we’re not a big town that needs a lot of those services,” Mills said. “But unfortunately, there’s probably more issues here than what people know about.”
First Call also has a program to provide financial assistance to families needing help paying rent or utilities. It also can offer transportation, and sometimes a one-night motel room, for transients who often find their way to Hays via Interstate 70. Those individuals often are bused to Salina, which has a homeless shelter.
“We try to get them to where we know there is a shelter that will be able to take them in and provide services for them since we don’t have that here,” Mills said. “And then the last thing that we can do with transient assistance is provide shelter at a motel room for one night. Unfortunately, it’s just the one night. But if there’s a blizzard out or their car broke down, at least we can do that.”
Families struggling to afford housing is a significant problem for many, and a primary reason why many of First Call’s clients are forced to seek assistance, Mills said.
“Forty-five percent of renters are what’s considered overburdened renters in Hays, which means that they pay more than a certain percentage of their income towards housing, and there’s less leftover for medical insurance and food and utilities,” she said.
The agency also coordinates the Meals on Wheels program with Hays Medical Center and offers an annual Backpacks for Kids school supply drive for local families. It also has a small, supplementary food pantry, which is running low on donations.
A primary service provided by First Call is referrals to other local agencies, helping families identify the resources they could benefit from, she said.
The agency has made efforts to notify clients of the move.
Some renovations were needed at the new location, such as paint and carpet in the three staff offices and new drywall in some areas. Work also is ongoing to set up additional shelving — purchased with the help of a Dane G. Hansen Foundation grant.
“There is a lot of space that right now we’re not currently using,” Mills said.