Outreach case management vital link to Wichita’s homeless

Outreach case management vital link to Wichita’s homeless

When we in Kansas think about the deadliest weather conditions, our thoughts turn to tornadoes, while East Coast denizens might say hurricanes. Both would be wrong.

A 30-year average shows that heat kills more people annually than tornadoes and hurricanes combined. What’s more, the most dangerous heat doesn’t come from a high heat spell but from a long period of less extreme heat. An average of 130 people die from heat-related problems each year, compared to 70 for tornadoes and 46 for hurricanes. Moreover, the debilitating effects of heat tend to be more pronounced in a prolonged mid-high temperature – like Wichita is experiencing this year – as opposed to a heat wave spike.

It’s the job of Outreach Case Manager Jerry Wills to help alleviate the effects of heat on the homeless population. He is tasked with connecting to and engaging with homeless people on the streets, in the parks, and in abandoned buildings in an effort to link them to services and housing. Jerry is a familiar figure on the streets himself, well-supplied with bottles of water, food items and hygiene products for people he encounters.

“Jerry is the key point of contact for many people on the streets,” said Program Director Christen Sampamurthy. “He has to first establish a trusting relationship with individuals who can often have significant trust, mental health and substance abuse issues. The goal from there becomes finding a path toward housing. That path is not the same for every person, so Jerry has to be creative in how he deals with each individual.”

He’s also creative in how he builds trust. Jerry works at the Emergency Winter Shelter November through March. “Some of the people prefer to live on the streets the other seven months of the year,” he said, “so as we near the end of the EWS season I talk with each client and develop a plan to stay in contact with them. That way if housing is approved I can let them know, and I can just check up on them to see how they’re doing.”

“We have a couple living in a tent with their dog right now,” said Jerry. “They have said they’ll enter Inter-Faith Inn when we are equipped for pets this fall, but not until that happens. I bring them bags of ice and pet food, and we’re in the process of getting the man an ID so he can look for work.”

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