Homeless lament loss of services at Kansas City, Kan., center

Wyandot Inc. ends drop in service at Frank Williams Center for homeless

Wyandot Inc. ended drop-in services Friday at its Frank Williams Housing Resource Center in Kansas City, Kan.
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Wyandot Inc. ended drop-in services Friday at its Frank Williams Housing Resource Center in Kansas City, Kan.

A fresh wound on her life shook Sierra Northern’s words as she stood cold and windblown Friday at a curb in Kansas City, Kan.

With the closing Friday of drop-in services at the Frank Williams Housing Resource Center, one of the few reliable respites in her life is going away.

She’s 26 and homeless. The place where she is staying has no heat or electricity, she said. She has no car. She’s waiting for a ride but doesn’t know when it will come.

And she’d just stepped out of the Frank Williams center, shaken by the news.

“There’s nothing else like this,” she said about the center. “You could do two loads of laundry … get some coffee, use the restroom. It was someplace to go in and keep warm.”

Some 100 people a day have been using the services at 1201 N. Seventh St. Shutting down the drop-in services “was a difficult and painful decision,” said Randy Callstrom, president and CEO of Wyandot Inc., which runs the center.

The drop-in services did not have their own funding source but relied on revenue generated by other mental health services under Wyandot Inc., Callstrom said.

The nonprofit agency, which lost some of its revenue sources and is anticipating other losses, needed to make cuts, he said.

It’s a too-familiar lament that shadows community services starving for funding to serve the neediest people, said 33-year-old Aaron Thompson, who used the center.

“People don’t really care,” he said. “They’ll help Lassie or Fido or any dog or cat get adopted to a new home. They can do that quickly. … That’s easier than it is to get a guy in a job and help him succeed.

“Governments make decisions and people got to suffer.”

The center has grant-funded programs that help homeless clients seek and secure housing, and those will continue.

But the program for people who come in off the street is ending. Among its services were showers, computer access, mailboxes and telephones.

“It’s going to be a big blow to the community,” said Susila Jones, executive director of the nonprofit social services agency Cross-Lines Community Outreach Inc., two miles south on Seventh Street.

“The services Frank Williams provides, along with mental health counseling — no one else has the capability to do that,” Jones said.

Cross-Lines may be able to help with laundry and shower services, and the agency is looking into whether it could pick up the mail service.

Social services are strained by dwindling state and private resources, she said.

“It’s going to continue hitting our community,” Jones said. “And the people who are most vulnerable will be hurt the most.”

Wyandot Inc. supports several mental health services, including the Wyandot Center, the PACES program for children and adolescents, Kim Wilson Housing Inc. and the RSI crisis stabilization center.

The Frank Williams center, which is named for a caseworker who died of an aneurysm at age 32, opened in late 2011.

The cuts to the program mean site manager Patrick Sumner’s position is eliminated, as are several part-time positions and a security guard job, Wyandot Inc. officials said.

The center would need a new funding source to reopen the drop-in services, Callstrom said.

“We will explore other funding,” he said.

Terry Collins, 44, is homeless, has found aid at the Frank Williams center and volunteered there regularly, he said.

“This place is a kickstand for the community,” he said, listing its services, especially the mental health counselors whom many people didn’t know they needed until they sat down and talked with them.

“When you’re ready to fall down,” Collins said, “at least you had someone you can lean against.”

Chris Pinks, 41, stood outside the center in Friday’s cold glare, saying he was “devastated.”

“How do you cut back on thousands of homeless people?” he asked.

“I’ve got nowhere to go. Can’t take a shower. Can’t get on the bus. I got no bus fare.”

Once his frustrated words over the cuts in services were spent, Pinks cast a long look over the intersection and the diverging asphalt.

“Which way am I going to walk today?”