Salvation Army closing emergency homeless shelter for women and children; longer-term ‘recovery home’ to take its place

By Celia Hack/KMUW | July 21, 2023

One of Wichita’s key resources for unhoused women, Salvation Army’s emergency shelter, will close Aug. 11.

The announcement comes while most of Wichita’s homeless shelters are already at capacity, said Angie Prather, vice president of marketing and chief community engagement officer for United Way of the Plains.

“This decrease will strain the system,” Prather wrote in an email to KMUW.

The shelter provides 30-day emergency housing for single women and families with children. The 28 beds there make up about 10 percent of the city’s total for people experiencing homelessness.

The closure is due to shrinking public and private funding sources since federal funding sources were restructured in 2016, said Major Merrill Powers, the South Central Area commander for the Salvation Army. Rising operational costs also drove the decision, he said.

“This is absolutely the hardest decision we’ve ever had to make,” Powers said. “In recent years, without significant public funding to operate the shelter and the need to continually increase private donations, that has just put us in a position where we couldn’t sustain it long term.”

Women living on the street will feel the shelter’s closure most acutely, advocates for the unhoused community said.

“It’s definitely a big hit for our communities, especially our ladies who are already in a vulnerable position being on the street and not having privacy and security,” said Mandy Griffin, the director of ICT Street Team, a nonprofit that provides medical care to unhoused people.

“It puts those ladies in an even more vulnerable position to maybe participate in activities that they normally wouldn’t or to associate with people that they normally wouldn’t so they can have some safety and security while they are living on the street.”

Overnight shelter for women and families will still be offered at HumanKind, St. Anthony Family Shelter and FamilyPromise of Greater Wichita, Prather wrote in an email to KMUW.

But Griffin said many of those shelters focus on women with children, so single women have fewer options. The majority of unhoused women are single, according to Prather.

Even before the Salvation Army’s closing, the city struggled to meet the shelter needs of the unhoused population. Wichita has approximately 702 unhoused people, according to the 2023 point-in-time count, and only 266 shelter beds. Without the Salvation Army, that number drops to 238, according to Prather.

“We don’t have adequate shelter space, especially for ladies,” Griffin said. “This is just amplifying a problem that was already there and making it worse.”

Salvation Army’s plans for the future

Powers said that the nonprofit plans to replace the 28-bed emergency shelter with a 21-bed “recovery home model.” Those in need of mental health or addiction services could stay for up to one year as opposed to 30 days in the emergency shelter.

Powers said the hope is to serve primarily women, like the shelter did, and to tackle the root causes of homelessness.

“Thirty days of being in a shelter or even a treatment program isn’t a cure for their life,” Powers said. “A year-long program allows them to get into treatment, to have supports … so that after a year in recovery, they can walk out knowing, ‘I’ve dealt with everything.’”

He added that donors want to fund long-term services as opposed to shelters, which can be seen as a “quick Band-Aid approach.”

Griffin, the director of ICT Street Team, said she is looking forward to the new recovery model. But she is frustrated that it had to come at the expense of the emergency shelter.

Powers said that staff are working with women and families at the shelter right now to move them into permanent housing.

“If we get to the last day and we’re having some challenges placing somebody, we’ll make that work,” Powers said. “We’re not going to just throw somebody out in the streets and say, ‘Hey, our doors are closed.’”