The Battle against Hunger in Wichita-the role of Evangelical Christian outreach

by Carol Jester

Hunger is not a problem that has only recently troubled folks in Wichita, Kansas.  We should be encouraged by the leadership of numerous organizations which have been in the local trenches and battling against hunger and homelessness for many decades.  One of these organizations is the Union Rescue Mission.

On September 6, 1950, the Gospel Service Center opened in a store front at 603 E. Douglas, and offered a message and a meal to a standing room only crowd.  It was sponsored by the Christian Business Men’s Committee at the urging of several citizens.

Almost from the beginning, this dedicated organization has served the hungry and homeless 365 days a year.  In 1952 the name of the community outreach was changed to Union Rescue Mission.  In 1954, the Mission found a more permanent location, at 130 N. St. Francis.  For forty seven years this is where the Mission offered a message, a meal and a bed for men each and every night of the year.

In the fall of 2003 the Mission moved its outreach for homeless men to its present location at 2800 N Hillside where it had formerly operated a shelter for women and children.  From that time until now, the number of overnight guests, and mealtime guests has steadily increased.

Today the Union Rescue Mission offers

  • Shelter for homeless men
  • Food for the hungry
  • Food box assistance to those in need
  • Baby formula and diapers for children in need
  • Employment counseling and guidance for homeless seeking to re-enter the work force
  • The New Beginnings Program for men whose lives have been shattered by homelessness and addiction.
  • Medical assistance for students of the New Beginnings Program

Marsha Stanyer has been the director of the Union Rescue Mission for over ten years.  As one might guess, December is a very busy time for the Mission.  Bitter cold and the Holidays each exacerbate the trials of people who are homeless and hungry.   Ms. Stanyer was kind enough to make time and share a snapshot view of the work at the Union Rescue Mission with me:

“The URM is serving about 1/3 of the entire Wichita (homeless) population.  FYI:  as a nationwide statistic, 77% of the homeless are men, with the other 23% being women and children.   For sheer numbers alone, we have chosen to concentrate on helping the homeless men in the city for two reasons:  a) there is no other shelter in Wichita that will accommodate single men, and b) with 77% of the homeless being men, we feel we have a greater chance to impact more by concentrating on men.”

“Naturally, it goes without saying that there is an immense need for food and shelter for the homeless on the streets.  However, in my opinion, the single biggest need for the homeless, aside from food and shelter, is someone to actually help them resolve the issues that caused their homelessness.  “Houseless” is not the same as “homelessness.”  Homelessness has been caused by a variety of issues—some of course pertain to those who have been hurt by the economy and have lost their job, due to the economy.  But oftentimes the “chronic homeless” have lost their jobs and families and homes due to drug and alcohol addictions that have consumed their lives.”

“Sometimes it’s hard to know ‘which came first—the chicken or the egg.’  The same concept applies to the homeless— . . . which came first—the drugs and alcohol addictions that led to homelessness . . .Or the homelessness that led to drug and alcohol addictions?  Either way—once someone becomes homeless, it rapidly becomes a downward spiral.  And until the time when someone actually helps them address more than just ‘stop drinking or stop using,’ and actually show(s) them how some of their previous dysfunctional lifestyle has caused serious issues that have remained unresolved for years, they will never know how to deal with those issues and overcome them.”

“At the URM New Beginnings Life-Change Program, we work with the homeless who really want a life change, and show them how to discover those deep-seated, unresolved issues, and show them how a relationship with Jesus Christ can help them resolve these issues from the past.  Once that is done, they realize why they have turned to alcohol or drugs, and how they can get help from their addictions.”

“One fact of the homeless that people don’t necessarily notice, is that several years ago, the average age of the homeless (was) 65-75, and gives visions of the wino derelict lying on the doorstep of an alley.  But today, the average of the homeless is closer to the age of 40-42.”

“While this fact can often be disturbing in that the homeless are now so much younger, and would give the impression of hopelessness at such a younger age, I personally view this same fact as HOPE—because if we can address the issues and addictions of these younger homeless people, they have so many more years of productive life that can be prevented from being wasted.  The sad part of this formula is that because these young people are on the streets at such a younger age, without hope and direction and leadership to help them resolve their situation, they also have the possibility of many more years of wasted life and unhappiness.”

The Union Rescue Mission houses nearly 170 men every night of the year and in 2010 served 90,589 meals to hungry people.  Their mission statement is “The Union Rescue Mission is an evangelical Christian ministry committed to sharing the gospel and meeting the spiritual, physical, and emotional needs of the homeless and poor in our community.”

There are many fronts in the battle against hunger in our city.  It will take all of us working in concert to significantly impact this problem and its causes.  My thanks extend to Marsha and Michelle Stanyer, for their assistance with this profile, and for their work with the forgotten citizens of Wichita who are presently hungry and homeless.

The effect of dysfunction and addiction on some members of our society should not be overlooked as a contributing factor to homelessness and hunger.  My own family has lost members due to addiction.  One of my uncles disappeared from the face of the earth in the late 1980s, after years of drug and alcohol abuse.  I spent years helping my Grandmother in her attempt to locate him.





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