LAWRENCE, Kan. — Homelessness is an issue Mathew Faulk sees every day.
“It's not a new issue,” Faulk said. “It's either, more or less, at any given time and I think we are in a period in which it's becoming a little more.”
Faulk is the team leader for the Homeless Outreach Program at Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center, providing resources and helping serve those in the community who are experiencing homelessness.
“Lawrence has expanded very quickly, so the cost of living has gone up pretty quickly, and so now we're in a position where we kind of look at the growth and understanding where we need to grow on the service level as well as the affordable housing level,” Faulk said.
Point-in-time surveys showed the homeless population increased nearly 32 percent over the past five years.
City estimates indicate a roughly 7 percent increase of the overall population within that same time frame.
Faulk said the annual point-in-time surveys don’t show a detailed look at the homeless population.
“The count itself is just really a snapshot, a very kind of fuzzy one. It’s also how well you administer that process,” he said.
He said to get a more detailed look you need to look at a longer span, roughly a five to eight-year time span.
With recent cuts in the program, Faulk said the demand has been high for his team.
“We've lost two staff positions on the outreach team,” Faulk said. “The demand for our services is sky high, and we just don't have the personnel to meet that demand.”
Down the road at Just Food, which serves as a food bank and pantry, Community Engagement Director Elizabeth Stephens said she’s seen the need grow.
“We serve 10,000 people that we're serving on a regular basis,” Stephens said. “On any given day, we serve about 150 families through our doors right here within our facility.”
Stephens said the nonprofit has seen a slight increase in the number of people they’re serving.
“We looked at our statistics and from 2016 to 2017 we had a 3 percent increase so it doesn't sound like a huge number, but it's something that's definitely felt,” Stephens said.
Stephens said the numbers are important to show how to move forward in helping the community.
“It's not a them issue, it's an us issue,” Stephens said. “When we empower those who are in need, we uplift our entire community.”