By CRISTINA JANNEY
First Call for Help is making its last push to raise the remaining funds to open its transitional housing program in Hays.
Work on the four units at its building at 607 E. 13th is almost complete. The First Step Housing Project hopes to welcome its first residents in August.
The program is $11,000 from a goal to raise $50,000 by the end of June to earn a $50,000 match from the Robert E. and Patricia A. Schmidt Foundation.
If the program is able to raise enough funds to receive its full match, it will be within $15,000 of raising the total $250,000 to purchase items needed for the start-up of the program.
However, First Call for Help Director Linda Mills said enough has been raised to complete construction and open in August.
The project has the appliances for the renovated space, as well as bedding. The Heartland Community Foundation awarded the project a grant to pay for the project's keyless entry system and exterior security cameras.
You can donate to the program in a variety of ways.
You can donate online. You have the option on the online form to designate your gift to the First Step project. Only funds designated for the First Step project will be doubled by the Schmidt Foundation.
You can drop off or mail a donation to 607 E. 13th, Hays, KS 67601.
You can also shop for items for the FirstStep program through its wish list on Amazon. A link can be found on the First Call for Help homepage. The items can also be purchased locally if the donor wishes.
In the month of June, the First Step program is hosting a Chef's Cuisine Fundraiser. Sake2Me, Chartwells and Gella's have recorded cooking demonstrations.
Each cooking demonstration consists of a main dish, side dish, and/or dessert, and lasts about 60 minutes. The cost per video link is $15 or $40 for all three links. For more information or to register, call Laura Shoaff at 785-623-2800 or 785-259-3811.
The First Step project will focus on people who live in Hays or the area and have become temporarily homeless.
The First Step facility encompasses about 1,000 square feet and consist of four units in the rear of First Call for Help's existing building.
Each bedroom will have bunk beds with its own private bathroom. One unit is handicap accessible. The facility will have a shared laundry facility and kitchenette, as well as a small community room.
The facility have room for eight people, possibly more if a family with children uses a cot or a crib.
The walls and sheet rock are up. Workers are ready to putty and sand and will soon install the flooring.
The program will accept families, single parents with children and single females — no single males. Participants have to be drug- and alcohol-free and not have a criminal history that includes violent or sexual crimes.
The participants will stay at in the transitional units up to six months, Mills said.
During that time, Laura Allen, First Call for Help client services specialist, will help the resident work through a financial literacy program. They can save for a deposit for their own rental. If they are unemployed, they can work toward finding a job, Mills said.
"What we want to focus on with them is the obstacles that have caused them to struggle in the area of housing," Mills said. "Whether that is straight up not enough income, then we will work on that."
First Call for Help has already had a trial run with the financial classes thanks to a grant from New York Life. The agency is using a free financial literacy program available through the FDIC.
Mills said it is hard to determine how many homeless people are in Hays or the surrounding area.
"We know from the number of people who come in here every year that ask us if we can help them get a house ... We have probably had four calls in the last two weeks. ... We do get a lot of calls of people looking for help to get into housing," she said.
First Call for Helps' programs are an oasis in northwest Kansas. No other homeless shelters exist between Salina and Denver.
The program used to issue vouchers to individuals and families for overnight stays in local hotels. This was often used by the transient homeless population, however, this program was discontinued.
Two of the hotels First Call for Help used have been torn down. The other hotels will no longer accept the vouchers because of behavior problems with the voucher guests in the past.
First Call for Help continues to provide rental and utility assistance to people who qualify, as well as a small food and diaper pantry.