Downtown Wichita resource center for homeless delayed, but moving forward

Plans to open a comprehensive resource and referral center for the homeless in downtown Wichita early next year have been delayed because of a slowdown in donations, but a challenge gift of $500,000 and another $200,000 pledge were announced Thursday toward a fall 2011 opening.

"This is so significant" because fundraising for the new center started when the economy started to decline steeply, said Tom Ruggles, who is on the steering committee of United Methodist Open Door.

The nonprofit, formerly known as United Methodist Urban Ministry, will operate the center at Second and Topeka. Open Door still needs to raise $1.3 million for the $5.4 million center.

The Kresge Foundation, a private foundation based in Troy, Mich., provided the $500,000 challenge grant. Open Door will receive that money if it raises the remaining $1.3 million.

Open Door announced Thursday that it had already received $200,000 in response to the challenge grant from a major Wichita employer.

"This gives us the renewed energy to go to corporations and say, 'This will make your money go further,' " Deann Smith, executive director of Open Door, said of the challenge grant.

The center will bring together some of the basic services Open Door already provides to homeless and low-income people. It also will house offices of agencies that will help get those same people back on their feet.

"The community needs this," Smith said.

As the number of people whom Open Door serves hits record levels — including 180 homeless people a day — people in the community are giving as much as they can for the center, she said.

"It's going to happen," she said. "It's just taking longer."

The center is one of the recommendations of Wichita's Task Force to End Chronic Homelessness. Partners such as Comcare's homeless program and the city of Wichita's Housing First office will be in the new center, and more than a dozen other health and human service organizations will have offices there.

Open Door services, such as its drop-in center for the homeless and clothes distribution, will move to the center.

Smith said that Charles Eby had volunteered to act as project manager for the center, saving at least $100,000. Eby is also soliciting in-kind gifts for the remodeling of the building, which used to house the Kansas Department of Labor.

Eby said that "very substantial donations" of lighting, electrical and plumbing equipment had already come in, and he was able to pick up $30,000 in air-conditioning equipment for $5,000 at a recent Wild West World auction.

Work on the building has already started, with asbestos removal currently under way.

Smith said that Open Door's campaign to raise money for the center would go through Aug. 1, 2011, and she hopes the renovation will be complete next fall.