May 2006 
Volume 05, Issue 1 
Main Feature

Lending a hand, touching lives

Wichita's Center of Hope is 'in business of preventing homelessness'

Lending a hand, touching livesThe Center of Hope in Wichita, Kan., has a succinct mission. "We're in the business of preventing homelessness," said executive director George Dinkel. Thanks in part to the support of the Employees Community Fund in Wichita, Kan., in 2005 the Center provided nearly 4,400 people—homeless or on the verge of being homeless—with rent, mortgage payments and referrals to other social service agencies where they received additional help.

What causes a person to become homeless? The reasons are as unique as the individuals experiencing it, as illustrated below.

  • At 61, "Rachel" makes $200 per month at a temporary agency and pays $400 per month in rent while supporting a husband who can't work. She makes up the difference from a savings account that will soon be depleted. Her nightly fear is losing their apartment because they can't pay the rent.
  • "John" burned his hands in hot grease while working at a restaurant. He can't work while his hands heal, and his wife is unemployed. Unable to pay the rent, they were evicted and were homeless for two weeks.
  • "Earl," hit by a car, lost his job and now lives alone while waiting for leg surgery. He has no money for rent if he pays utility bills and buys food, and no money for food and heat if he pays his rent.

The names of the people above may not be real, but their stories are. And, despite the dire beginnings to their tales, these individuals have enjoyed much happier endings, thanks to help and hope they've been given since contacting the Center.

Over the last three years, the ECF in Wichita has provided nearly $200,000 to the Center, which, along with other contributions the Center receives, goes directly to the people being helped.

Lending a hand, touching lives"These people don't want to be in a shelter. They want help to make changes in their lives," Dinkel said. "If we can get them past the problem of homelessness, they can usually solve the rest."

The Center's statistics indicate that their clients do make those changes. In 2005, more than 69 percent of the applicants were new. Dinkel interpreted this number to mean that most of the people the Center helped the previous year were able to stay in their homes or moved without owing rent—as in the case of Rachel, John and Earl.

And if the one-time annual rent or mortgage payment isn't enough, the Center offers longer-term outreach. Sister Becky, the staff social worker, assesses clients' additional needs, such as parenting or budgeting skills, and counseling. For more than a year, Sister Becky worked with "Jessie" (not her real name), a single mother with one child. Jessie had bad credit from unpaid bills, payday loans and credit cards. Sister Becky obtained credit counseling and tax-return preparation assistance for Jessie. When Jessie voiced concern about being a good mother, Sister Becky signed her up for parenting classes.

With Sister Becky's help, Jessie is now employed, lives within a budget, and has improved her credit record enough that she now qualifies to buy a home for herself and her child, a goal she is pursuing. Said Sister Becky: "Support from the Employees Community Fund makes this continuum of assistance possible."

—Janet Boggs

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