Affordable housing, shelter capacity top concerns in first Sioux Falls Homeless Task Force meeting
More than 400 people in Sioux Falls were homeless at the beginning of this year, continuing an upward trend in the state’s largest city. By the end of this year, the Sioux Falls Homeless Task Force will propose policy to address the issue. Six organization leaders gave task force members a crash course on their missions and needs on Wednesday.
The most common theme was a need for affordable housing. Janet Kittams is the CEO of the Helpline Center, an informational service residents can reach by calling 211.
“Out of our call volume, which is about 88,000 in a year, 20 percent of those are regarding housing issues," Kittams said. "So it’s by far and away the number one need that 211 sees." She said most of those housing calls are from people seeking rent payment assistance.
Eric Weber of the Union Gospel Mission echoed the need, saying many people who stay in his shelter are working full-time jobs. “We see hundreds of apartments going up. Their rents are $1,100 plus. There’s tons of them. What are we doing for the low income?” Weber and others also discussed the need for transitional housing and renting options for people freshly graduated from sobriety programs and people with felony records.
Capacity in homeless shelters is another concern. Madeline Shields is the director of Bishop Dudley Hospitality House, which accepts residents regardless of sobriety status. She said the shelter is so consistently over-capacity that its board of directors asked for an assessment from the fire marshal. Shields said the official capacity is now 155 people.
“My biggest concern is what is going to happen this winter when it’s 10 below or 10 above or it’s inclement weather,” she told the task force. “Where are we going to refer those 10, 20, 30, 50 people who are going to be number 156?” She proposed a referral system to ensure no one is left without shelter after hours.
“My staff cannot turn people away, because for many in the winter that’s a death sentence,” said Shields.
The other organizations that presented were South Dakota Urban Indian Health, Southeast Behavioral Health, St. Francis House and The Banquet.
The Sioux Falls Homeless Task Force meets again for a public input session on Monday.