As homeless problem mounts, other cities can learn from Wichita HOT team

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WICHITA, Kan. (KAKE) -

The president calls the growing homelessness problem in some cities disgraceful and suggests the federal government may soon get involved.

"When we have leaders of the world coming to see the President of the United States and they're riding down the highway, they can't be looking at that," President Donald Trump said.  "I really believe that it hurts our country."

Trump made those comments during an interview on FOX News.  

He added, "We may intercede.  We may do something to get that whole thing cleaned up.  We have to take the people and... do something.  We have to do something."

He was referencing double digit growth in the homeless populations in several big cities over the last few years.  

While the homeless population in some cities is reaching levels not seen since the Great Depression, here in Wichita the numbers are going down.

"I just wish that , you know, people would realize that we're not all bad people," Ronnie said.  He didn't want KAKE News to use his last name.

Ronnie lives on the streets in Wichita.  Paralyzed on his right side, he's confined to a wheelchair and survives on disability.  He says the check is not enough to pay for an apartment, utilities, food, medical bills.

"I eat about once a day," he said when describing how hard it is for him to get around town in his wheelchair to the places that offer free food.

Helping folks like Ronnie get off the streets is the main purpose of the Wichita Police Department's Homeless Outreach Team (HOT).

"Just this morning I helped a guy get into his apartment," Officer Nate Schwiethal said.  "I got him free furniture through His Helping Hands."

The HOT team works to connect the homeless with various services that can help them get into permanent housing.  Since the team got started six years ago, Wichita has seen a dramatic decrease in the homeless population.

"We've actually had a 78% decrease in our chronic homeless population and overall a decrease in our irregular population as well," Schwiethal said.

Meanwhile, New  York City has had a 70% increase in the last decade, San Francisco saw a 17% increase in the last two years, and Los Angeles posted a 12% increase in that same time period.  Groups that work with the homeless in those cities say the main problem is an ever-increasing lack of affordable housing.

Schwiethal and his team spend a lot of their time now helping other cities find some of the solutions to homelessness they've found here in Wichita. 

"I get to work with all these amazing providers, and we get to bounce ideas off each other, look at gaps and try to fill them," he said.  "I've been doing a lot of traveling to other cities, try to help them start Homeless Outreach Teams, and I start to see the gaps in their community versus ours."

Meanwhile, Ronnie just wants the public to understand that being homeless doesn't make someone untouchable.

"I was that way before I ended up homeless.  I was they're all a bunch of nasty... you know," Ronnie said.  "Just talk to people and find out all the stress and the... that put them out on the street."

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