As homelessness rises in Topeka, Rescue Mission sees record numbers

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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Homelessness in Topeka was on the rise nearly across the board in the latest point-in-time count of homeless people in the Capital City.

Topeka Rescue Mission executive director Barry Feaker says it's going to take some effort to turn the numbers around.

“There’s no one fix solution to any of this,” he said.

According to the City's homeless count, the total number of homeless individuals climbed to 419. That's up from 356 last year.

Feaker's agency saw a record number of guests in 2017, with the biggest increases being individuals who suffer from mental health challenges. The City of Topeka also noted the state's schools are showing an increase in the number of homeless children and youths.

Feaker, who has been heading the charge for Topeka to end homelessness, says the number that jumps out at him is the rise in chronically homeless, which climbed from 119 to 153.

“What that would indicate is that we have some folks who have actually experienced homelessness for a longer period of time than normal," Feaker said. "(It) means we haven’t been able to find them more permanent housing, shelter, and that we’ve kept them longer - maybe in shelter or other situations.”

One of the biggest contributors to homelessness, Feaker says, is chronic mental illness - reoccurring mental illness and the debilitating effects it causes. The latest survey saw the number of homeless with serious mental illness hit 183, up from 161.

Feaker pointed out that number could be even higher.

Even with numbers growing, Feaker says building more shelters won’t help. He argues the solution lies in finding the neighborhoods where the homeless are coming from and helping them.

“To be able to see if we can stabilize people where they are. Help get their water back on. Make sure that they have enough food. Make sure that the access to employment training and jobs and mental health and substance abuse are all right there in their neighborhoods,” he said.

Studies like the Point-in-Time survey help shine a light on the problem, but it takes the entire community to fix it.

“The point-in-time count helps us to identify those people in need and to attain the resources that we need to help them,” said Corrie Wright, Division Director of Housing Services for the City of Topeka

Despite the areas of increase, one category that saw a decline is homeless people who are victims of domestic violence. That number plummeted from 93 last year to 34 in 2017. Other declines were found
in percentages of adults with children, youth households, and veteran households.

“We’ve got a long way to go," Feaker said. "That said, Topeka’s a very generous community. A community that wants a game plan and that’s what we’re trying to understand. What is the game plan?”

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