The rate of poverty in Riley County continues to increase, sparking concern in the Manhattan community. Statistics from the Kansas Census Bureau show that 23.6 percent of individuals in Manhattan are below the poverty level, compared to the 12.6 percent of Kansas’ total population that lives under the poverty level.
These poverty guidelines are set by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. They are largely based off of a person’s gross yearly or monthly income, as well as the number of people in a family.
These statistics include K-State students as well as Manhattan residents, which leads to the high poverty rate in Riley County. About 23,800 individuals are enrolled at K-State, and a total of 75,500 residents live in Riley County.
“Because we have so many residents that are students, it will show overall across the state as a lower rate of income,” said Beverly Olson, executive director of Shepherd’s Crossing, a local nonprofit organization. “This also means it will show a higher number of residences at poverty level.”
That does not mean, however, that Manhattan residents are not affected by poverty. Although the number of local residents who are actually living in poverty may be lower than Kansas Census Bureau data suggests, many Riley County families are still in need.
Shepherd’s Crossing is a nonprofit organization that supports families who need help with budget counseling, referrals and financial support. Last year, the organization used more than $136,000 to help families with their rent and utility bills.
“Last year, we assisted close to 1,000 families with rent, utilities and prescriptions,” Olson said. “Some of these are also repeats of families we helped previously in the same year.”
The Flint Hills Breadbasket is another nonprofit organization that serves local families. It provides free food to low-income families and, like Shepherd’s Crossing, the Breadbasket has also seen an increase in the number of people who need assistance.
“We have doubled over the last few years in the amount of people we have helped,” said Maribeth Kieffer, executive director of the Breadbasket.
Many factors contribute to the situation of families who are living below the poverty line, including a poor national economy, lack of local employment opportunities, costly health problems and the need to support dependent family members.
Lieutenant Kirsten Aho, Corps Officer for the Manhattan Salvation Army, said that individuals need to understand the impact of poverty, no matter what the cause may be.
“Regardless of who is responsible, whether it’s the government, your family or the community at large, there is a breakdown somewhere,” Aho said. “Something is wrong; people are not being taken care of effectively.”
In addition to Shepherd’s Crossing, the Breadbasket and the Salvation Army, there are several other organizations that come together to help those families below the poverty line, including Manhattan Emergency Shelter, United Way, Low Income Energy Assistance Program and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
These nonprofit organizations and government-funded programs support low-income families no matter what the cause of their situation may be. They provide services that can help pay for bills, assist in financial counseling and supply the families with items for essential needs.
Although government-funded programs like LIEAP and SNAP have federal assistance to provide for others, nonprofit organizations are solely based off donations and run on a volunteer basis.
Aho said that it is important that citizens become aware of the situations of their neighbors, and that individuals donate when possible and volunteer to alleviate the effects of poverty.
“Poverty is bigger than any one person,” Aho said.