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Topeka Rescue Mission Cuts Children’s Services as it Deals with Budget Problems

The Children's Palace in Topeka. (Photo by Stephen Koranda)

The Topeka Rescue Mission is ending some children’s services as the agency struggles with budget problems.

The challenges come at a time when homelessness statewide has been on the rise.

The Children’s Palace in Topeka had been offering free day care and trauma services for nearly 50 children, but that will end this week. Executive Director Barry Feaker said that will mean a loss of educational day care and services for children experiencing behavioral issues because of emotional trauma.

On a more basic level, the lack of child care will make it harder for the parents of these kids to work.

 “It’s going to delay people being able to get a job, being able to move forward in life,” Feaker said.

Feaker said the organization has grown its efforts in recent years to go beyond simply sheltering people. The goal has been to attack some of the causes of homelessness, and the group has seen some success with a reduction in people returning to the shelter repeatedly.

The Children’s Palace was part of that, offering safe day care along with emotional services. The idea was helping children early as a way to avoid more serious issues down the road that could lead to continued homelessness or prison.

“We wanted to have specially trained folks to intervene in the trauma that they face,” Feaker said.

With those outreach efforts have come additional costs. Feaker hopes another organization can provide funding or take over and reopen the day care center.

“It was not financially sustainable, or we wouldn’t be here,” Feaker said.

The Rescue Mission raised alarms in August that the organization could shut its doors if its finances didn’t turn around. Now, the group has cut costs and increased fundraising, and trimming back on services is part of that.

In addition to cutting the child services, the group is looking to offload its services for people who are the victims of human trafficking. Right now, there are talks for another organization to take over those services.

The organization has cut jobs and programs, reducing costs by almost $1.6 million, bringing the annual budget from $5 million in 2019 to less than $3.5 million projected for 2020.

Other areas, like Lawrence and Sedgwick County, have seen the population of people experiencing homelessness climb recently.

That’s something Kate Watson hears about. As the executive director of the Kansas Statewide Homeless Coalition her phone frequently rings with people at risk of homelessness asking where they can find services.

“This past year, we’ve seen a lot more requests than what we’ve seen in the past,” Watson said.

Watson said the economic downturn hit low-income families hard and some haven’t recovered, with many people living paycheck-to-paycheck. That puts them at risk of homelessness if something goes wrong.

“One minor, not to mention major, catastrophe in a family is the tipping point,” she said.

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