Homelessness is a factor in Kansas communities large and small, and many who spent their time working on solutions gathered in Pittsburg this week.
The annual Kansas Statewide Homeless Coalition moves from city to city, and this year brought representatives from agencies across the state to Pittsburg to share, learn, network and be re-inspired.
The conference began Monday with a networking reception, and continued yesterday with a full schedule of speakers, breakout sessions, information opportunities and chances to network.
The morning started off full of information, with Terri Porter, the deputy director of the HUD Regional Office, presenting on homeless and HUD trends.
She said the budget sequester effects have yet to be fully felt, but that they are anticipated to result in homeless people losing their housing.
“Our office is already receiving phone calls from offices who are losing office staff and from people whose housing vouchers are not being renewed,” Porter said.She advised local program directors that $2,546,894.21 in unused funding is set to be recaptured by HUD to be returned to the treasury, and she advised looking at how to fully use funds awarded.
“We don’t want the money you are rewarded back,” she said. “I strongly encourage you to take a look at the environment in your community... We know that things are changing on the homelessness front and that grants need to change with that.”
Porter was followed by keynote speaker Mike Brose, the executive director for the Mental Health America of Tulsa, who shared that even in tough times these challenges can be overcome.
“We need to branch out intrastate and help each other,” he said.
Brose used the analogy of housing as the engine that drives many different trains.
He said housing drives the train of the individual’s life according to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, beginning with providing one of life’s most basic needs in the form of shelter.
Page 2 of 3 - Brose said when people have safe, affordable, decent housing they are able to focus on needs further up the hierarchy.
“It’s amazing what can happen as they begin to have an opportunity to move up the hierarchy,” he said. “If they’re not worried about where they’re sleeping tonight they start thinking about their health care.”
He said this includes mental and dental, which then gives them the appearance and confidence to land jobs, and so on.
Brose said no one likes homelessness.
“We like to say, ‘Guess what, get involved with us because we are doing something about it,’” he said.
Brose also said housing can be a driver for the organization, as something concrete that can be an exciting rallying point for volunteer recruitment, attracting specialized skills, offering excitement to board members and volunteers, providing fundraising opportunities, offering increased visibility, employment and more.
It also can be a driver for fundraising and a point of collaboration.
The conference continued with several breakout sessions, including a poverty simulation, and a second keynote speaker Tuesday and additional breakout sessions Wednesday.
Sean Ozbun, an employee of the Southeast Kansas Community Action Program, said he was looking forward to networking opportunities and the chance to hear what others are doing around the state.
He also said he was not organizing the poverty simulation at this event, but that he has helped conduct a number of similar events.
“There’s a lot of value,” he said. “The homeless population is certainly struggling with poverty.”
Ozbun said the simulations can be powerful reminders for those who work with individuals in poverty.
“It’s a powerful experience,” he said. “For some, if they’re living that, it can be an emotional experience.”
Jay Preston, with My Father’s House in Paola, said he has attended the conference for a number of years and enjoys the resources and partnership.
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He said MFH began 10 years ago and is a combination church and not-for-profit, but is fulfilling a need not only in Miami County, but also in Franklin, Allen, Anderson and Bourbon counties.
“We’re the only transitional shelter,” said Beth Waddle, who also works with MFH.
The operation continues to expand and is working to bring services to new populations and is exploring options for permanent supportive housing.
Both Preston and Waddle said the conference offers helpful ideas and resources as they vision and expand.
Erick Vaughn works for Kansas Head Start and was part of the team that helped plan the event.
He said the goals included sharing knowledge, networking opportunities and the opportunity for those who give of themselves to practice self-care.
Vaughn said conferences like this are helpful and a connection he made at a previous conference has been instrumental in the development of some additional resources to help people understand poverty.
He said it also is a chance to make more specific connections.
“I work in early childhood education and I’m hoping to make some connections,” he said.
“There’s so many good programs and things through the state,” Vaughn said. “That’s why I like this conference. You get people together.”