Manhattan is strictly neither a rural nor an urban community; it is a college town located near a military base with an economy that has fared better than most during a national recession. For these reasons, residents in need of federal aid often slip through eligibility cracks and are left fighting homelessness from their front porch.
These people are not counted in nation-wide homeless counts because they still have a roof over their head, said Mandy Chapman-Semple, executive director of the Manhattan Emergency Shelter. A Jan. 28 homeless count conducted by United Way Manhattan reported 11 individuals living without shelter and about 50 living in transitional shelters in Manhattan, according to a Collegian article.
A homeless count is required for any community that receives funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, a federal entity developed to increase home ownership. However, such counts do not include individuals and families who have to live with friends or family, often temporarily. Riley County has one of the highest costs of living in Kansas, Chapman-Semple said, because of its competitive rental market and low vacancy rate.
“When you’re homeless in Manhattan, you’re not sleeping on the street, you’re maybe crashing at a friend’s or relative’s house, and the federal government technically considers you housed at that point,” Chapman-Semple said. “But the reality is that family is still seeking emergency services. They’re still technically homeless.”
Chapman-Semple said an adaption of the government’s definition of homelessness is necessary to help determine how much federal funding local aid programs like Section 8, a housing subsidies program, and the Public Housing Authority can receive.
Melisa Posey is a single mother who has been living in Section 8 housing for two years. She said adaptations to government definitions should be a bottom-up process to include input from people directly affected by such programs.
“Too often we’re dismissed as uneducated, lazy, poor and ignorant,” Posey said. “This is a popular misconception of people who seek government assistance. Any changes are going to have a profound impact on those individuals and families. They have to go to these people and listen to their voices.”
Posey, junior in pre-law and women’s studies, said she is appreciative of Section 8.
“It is what allows me to be a student in school and do what I want with my life. I do want to be in school right now, it’s something I’m extremely passionate about,” she said.
The Section 8 voucher program increases affordable housing choices for extremely low-income households by allowing families to choose privately owned rental housing, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Brice Ebert, owner of Alliance Property Management, is currently working with the emergency shelter to place qualified families and individuals in 10 Alliance units. While Ebert acknowledged the significance of permanent housing, he said he is still a businessman.
“By doing this, we can get several properties rented,” he said. “Section 8 is a supplemental rent payment. So if the rent is $800, the shelter would cover $700 and [the tenants] would be responsible for $100.”
Money from a Homeless Prevention Fund, which President Barack Obama helped establish earlier this year, gave the emergency shelter the power to seriously negotiate with landlords for the first time.
“We have money and we have tenants. And [landlords] need tenants and want money, so it seems like a natural fit,” Chapman-Semple said. “But their experiences with the low-income population have really soured their perception of that relationship, so we need to rebuild. And [Section 8] is an opportunity to do that.”