SEDGWICK COUNTY, Kan. (KSNW) — On Wednesday, the Homelessness Taskforce met for the first time and is ready to address the needs of those in Wichita and Sedgwick County.

In 2022, 690 people were identified as homeless in Wichita and Sedgwick County, which is a nearly 12% increase from 2020.

“The vast majority of the people in this community do say we do have a problem, mental health, substance abuse, homelessness,” said Sedgwick County Commissioner Ryan Baty.

The Homelessness Taskforce is hoping to find best practices for those who are homeless with help from County and City leaders, Wichita Public Schools, local nonprofits, and more.

“We still have the work to do. We are still in the planning phase. We have the money put aside, and over the next five years, if we do this right, we will be the model for combating homelessness for cities our size,” said Wichita Mayor Brandon Whipple.

Wednesday’s meeting and the next few will be focused on information for the group to understand the problems the region faces, from people preying on those who are homeless to understanding what resources are not being fully utilized.

They will also hear from people who experience it firsthand.

“It is oftentimes we make decisions in offices, and we might have the best intentions, but how it is applied in the real world might not actually work logistically, so we have to keep that in mind as we administer services, design new programs, enhance current programs. We really want to talk about how one would navigate those systems so that logistically it actually is effective to get people housed and off the streets in the city of Wichita,” said HumanKind Ministries President/CEO LaTasha St. Arnault.

The group will also support current initiatives such as Project Hope.

Wichita’s Housing and Community Services will use a $1 million grant from the Department of Justice to target the homeless problem in the Broadway corridor, between 10th and Kellogg and Waco to Washington.

“We will be doing that by launching care coordination teams to go out and work with individuals and try to get them housed as well as a public education campaign and community outreach,” said Wichita Housing and Community Services Director Sally Stang.

The city is hopeful it will reduce crime as well.

Baty, who is also serving on the task force, said this is more than just finding temporary shelter for those in need.

“Substance abuse, mental health crisis, affordable housing, and we’ve got to look at the entire spectrum and really bring solutions for each of those spectrums if we are really going to make progress,” said Baty.

The task force will meet once a month for at least three years.

Project Hope starts next week with interns and care providers hitting the streets in the Broadway corridor to help people find housing.