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Taking stock of poverty

By Bryan Richardson

An initial event to help to quantify and address poverty in the community has its organizers thinking about their next moves.

Everybody Counts took place for a 24-hour period at the end of January to serve those experiencing poverty through more than 40 service providers.

During the event, 351 adults, 179 children and 32 seniors arrived at First United Methodist Church’s Harris Activity Center to receive information and use health services.

The most frequently requested needs were food, dental and health care.

The need for food was evident with Harvesters Community Food Network distributing 9,614 pounds of food in six hours to 562 people from 234 households.

Around 30 people attended a debriefing meeting Wednesday, said Patrick McLaughlin, associate pastor of missions and outreach at First United Methodist.

McLaughlin said people are willing to continue the efforts, and he’s eager to begin planning for the next one.

Emily Wagner, executive director of the Manhattan Emergency Shelter, said the next event would take place during the summer, although details haven’t been developed yet.

“I know that our numbers will rise in the summer,” she said. “You have more people sleeping outside.”

At the January event, Wagner said they counted 73 homeless people - 33 in a shelter, 28 in transitional housing, six who would be homeless within the week, three in a hotel room they didn’t purchase, and three in a car or outside.

This was done as a part of the annual U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Point-In-Time (PIT) homeless count.

She explained that the HUDfundingdoesn’tcome directly to the community.

The Kansas Statewide Homeless Commission is the lead agency of the Balance of State Continuum of Care, which consists of 101 out of the 105 Kansas counties.

These counties, including Riley County, competes for transitional and permanent housing project grants from a pool of more than $2.5 million.Wagner said she utilizes the homeless numbers for local and state grants to make sure there’s an accurate picture of the situation.

“It’s just to help us show the need,” she said. “There are people who don’t believe there’s a homeless problem.”

During the event, there was also 18 people who lived in someone else’s home.

Wagner and McLaughlin said they were both surprised by the lack of families sharing housing who appeared at the event.

“That’s what most of the students are that are homeless in the school district,” Wagner said.

USD 383 identified 239 homeless students last school year and more than 250 this current school year.In the district, 72 percent of students defined as homeless shared housing with others, 20 percent are lived in shelters and 8 percent fell into another category in the 2012-13 school year.

“We’re hopeful to be able to target that audience better and learn what their particular needs are,” McLaughlin said.

In addition to planning another event, organizers are also looking for ways to strengthen the daily interactions that those in need have with service providers.

Aaron Estabrook, a worker for the Supportive Services for Veteran Families program, said the stigma attached to poverty is tough to overcome.

“We’d like a way for people experiencing poverty to have a voice, not just one or two events a year,” he said.

Estabrook said one of the desire is to have an area in the community that would have service providers together on a regular basis throughout the year.

“That’s going to take a lot of paperwork,” he said. “It could be a tedious process.”

McLaughlin said service providers have to “not ever become content with what we’re doing already.”

“We do have some amazing service providers doing good work,” he said. “When people don’t know it exists, it’s frustrating for everybody.”

Estabrook said it will take effort to set up an organizational structure to improve the efforts.

“It seems like there’s a community will,” he said. “We’re just trying to regroup and gather our thoughts.”

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