Mentoring programs and local housing issues were two big topics discussed at a meeting with the state homeless coalition Tuesday.
Nineteen representatives from several churches and ministries, Hays USD 489, High Plains Mental Health Center, the city and county, and assistance organizations met Tuesday with consultants Kerrie Van Merveren and Marqueia Watson of Amazing Traditions, who are conducting assessment needs surveys with the Kansas Statewide Homeless Coalition.
The consultants encouraged discussion on causes of homelessness, needs in the community and solutions.
One point of discussion throughout the morning was that while the Hays area in particular has good resources for those who are homeless or at risk for homelessness, greater communication about those resources is needed.
“There are a lot of resources in the community, but we don’t always know how to access them,” said Linda Mills, executive director of First Call for Help.
The number of assistance programs — and sometimes territorial issues — can be an obstruction in referring people to other groups.
People in need of help don’t always know where to go for assistance and struggle with the stigma of needing help as well, many in the group pointed out.
Likewise, there are many people who want to help but don’t know or realize the scope of the problem, said Jessica Johnson with Breathe Coffeehouse and Dialogue Ministries.
She said she has a group of 80 volunteers, but they are waiting to be told where they can be of help.
“I work with a lot of very compassionate people. I think one of the issues is they just don’t know. But once they do know the need is there, they’re willing to step up and help,” she said.
One idea that received some enthusiastic discussion was the creation of some sort of mentorship or case management program.
“That’s an increasing trend in the overarching social services that I’ve been seeing,” VanMerven said.
A case manager type of assistant can help those who have trouble keeping track of or getting transportation to job interviews or training, medical appointments and navigating the local, state and federal assistance programs.
“Having a case manager kind of helps them reintegrate and get back on track,” she said.
Housing issues also were discussed, especially in light of data reviewed by VanMerven that shows in the 18-county northwest Kansas region, Ellis County has between 1.1 percent and 2 percent of households where housing exceeds 30 percent of total household income.
It was pointed out if those numbers were broken down by community, Hays likely would have a much higher percentage.
Finding affordable houses that meet standards for subsidized funding from U.S. Housing and Urban Development is a problem in Hays, said Dennis Wilson of First Call for Help.
“For people who have applied and have been approved for HUD housing, there are very few houses that pass the qualifications,” he said.
Finding quality rental housing and landlords willing to work with their tenants also is a problem locally. But one landlord in the group said there are those willing to do so.
Kent Ficken said he owns a few rental properties and has worked with tenants on rent levels or allowing them to wait and pay their deposit after receiving a deposit from a previous landlord. Others will do the same, he said.
“If you talk to some of the bigger landlords, there are some out there that will help you out, and they will work with you on the rent. That’s why you need to network with some of the landlords,” he said.
“You can work this out, especially with the competition we have in rent right now,” he said, adding there are more than 150 rental units open in Hays and many of them are being put up for sale.
“What we struggle with is to know who are the ones that will work with us,” said Sherry Dryden, executive director of United Way of Ellis County.
She and Mills told of examples where tenants were being charged by landlords for repairs such as floors that buckled or rain water running down between walls.
“It’s hard for us to advise them because the city doesn’t really have any kind of rental inspection,” Mills said.
She conceded that would be difficult for the city to enforce, but tenants need some sort of route to get problems fixed without the landlord retaliating, she said.