Hays program to accept applications from Ellis County, Kan., residents
By CRISTINA JANNEY
The First Step Housing Project opened officially on Tuesday.
The Hays Chamber of Commerce sponsored a ribbon-cutting at the new transitional housing unit at 607 E. 13th.
Linda Mills, First Call for Help director, said the program could start accepting clients as soon as last Friday.
The remodeled space includes four bedrooms with bunk beds, as well as a shared commons area with a kitchen and laundry facilities. The project can accommodate eight to 12 people.
The program is meant for people who already live in Ellis County, Kan., but are facing homelessness. The program provides a place to stay for parents and children, couples or single women for up to six months.
During that time, participants will save toward rental deposits or pay off utility bills so they can get into their own housing.
Participants must complete an application process, which includes an interview and drug/alcohol screening.
The program will offer a personal finance course for participants.
The program received two donated computers and has more computers on loan from the Kansasworks program.
Mills said the need for housing assistance in the community is great.
"We have a lot of people who are coming into the office asking if we can put them in a house," Mills said. "A friend has kicked them out. ...
"For those people, it's going to mean a lot because it is going to give them a chance to get everything set up, look for their rental. We'll work on budgets with them. We will work on Renting 101. ... There will be supportive services."
The housing unit will not be staffed 24/7, but staff will be on call if they are needed. The housing unit has a keyless code lock, which can be rest when a participant moves out. The housing unit is also equipped with security cameras.
Homelessness often looks different in Hays than in major metro areas, Mills said. Instead of seeing homeless people on the streets, you may see people living in vehicles or doubling up with other families.
"It can be problematic," Mills said. "There are issues of abuse that might come up, sleeping areas in the middle of the room with no privacy. We have a lot of that in the school district. They keep a list of students who are at risk and may already be staying with other people."
The remodel program cost $250,000. The program received federal CARES funds when the nonprofit had to cancel fundraisers in 2020 because of the pandemic.
The rest of the funds came from grants and private donations. Donors contributing $5,000 and more include the Robert E. and Patricia Schmidt Foundation, Dane G. Hansen Foundation, Ellis County Ministerial Alliance, Union Pacific Foundation, United Methodist Foundation, Heartland Community Foundation, Ellis County Bar Association and two anonymous donors.
The Wonder Women League donated $2,500 toward the matching funds needed for the Schmidt Foundation gift.
The housing project has been in the First Call for Help strategic plan since 2015. First Call for Help bought its current building in 2017. Work began on the remodel for the First Step project in 2020.
The program is still taking monetary donations and has a wish list for items still needed for the housing project on its website.
Applications for the housing project are available by calling 785-623-2800. You must be a current resident of Ellis County, Kan., to apply.