by Susila Jones, executive director, Cross-Lines Community Outreach
In 2020, our world changed. In addition to the health crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic caused economic hardship for so many people throughout our community.
Although the health crisis began to wane in 2022, the economic hardships faced by our community have significantly increased. Inflation has caused the price of grocery and household items to skyrocket. The extreme increase in housing costs has made it difficult for individuals and families to stay in safe and stable housing. This has also led to an increase in people experiencing homelessness in Wyandotte County. The increase in complex mental health needs in our community intensifies concerns around hunger and housing.
A shocking number of children in our community are going to school hungry each day. A simple trip to the grocery store is now more costly for everyone. However, people with lower incomes are disproportionality impacted by higher food costs. Families that have previously been able to stretch their budget to make ends meet can no longer afford adequate food for their families. Nonprofits like Cross-Lines Community Outreach are seeing new faces each day, people that have never needed to ask for food assistance.
In July 2021, Cross-Lines transformed its food pantry into a Community Market. The Community Market is an innovative approach to providing struggling families in Wyandotte County with healthy, fresh groceries to help fight hunger in our community. The Community Market is a deliberate shift away from a traditional food pantry to a more inclusive, respectful program where clients are shoppers who choose the items they need most. Shoppers can come once a month and use points based on their household size. The points allow shoppers to get enough food for approximately 10 meals. Since the Market opened in 2021, Cross-Lines has seen a 300% increase in the number of people seeking food assistance. This November, over 1,200 Wyandotte County households received food from the Community Market.
Food insecurity is not the only urgent issue facing Wyandotte County; rising rents and housing costs are putting more families at risk for homelessness. COVID-related responses for rent and mortgage assistance from state and federal programs, such as KERA, have all but run out. As funding from nonprofits is depleted, there are fewer resources for individuals and families at risk of eviction. Additionally, if someone does become homeless, the lack of safe and affordable housing in Wyandotte County makes it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to move someone from homelessness back into housing.
As the number of individuals experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity increases, immediate solutions are needed, such as funding for rent assistance, reducing utility bills, targeted homeless street outreach, and the Emergency Cold Weather Shelter. However, long-term solutions that address the lack of affordable housing are needed. This needs to be a collaborative approach that addresses the full spectrum of housing needs including increased housing stock for all income levels and landlord risk mitigation strategies to increase housing voucher utilization.
Nonprofit agencies, public and private entities, groups of faith, and community members are working together to tackle our community’s housing needs and at the same time must address how systemic racism has led to and continues to limit access to housing for people of color. By working together, our community can increase access to affordable housing and end homelessness in Wyandotte County.
For nearly 60 years, Cross-Lines Community Outreach has provided services and supports to people experiencing poverty throughout Wyandotte County. To learn more about Cross-Lines, visit www.cross-lines.org
Susila Jones is the executive director of Cross-Lines Community Outreach in Kansas City, Kansas.