The median home price in Manhattan is $173,200 with a median rent cost of $800, where Kansas’ overall median home price is $127,400 with a median rent cost of $715, according to areavibes.com, a website that calculates and compares living conditions of U.S. cities and towns.
The Manhattan Emergency Shelter, Inc., located at 416 S. Fourth St., serves as a transitional shelter environment for the homeless of Manhattan. According Jesse Ochs, senior in social work and practicum case worker at the shelter, many who work there speculate that the city’s high housing cost and general cost of living play a part in its high rate of homelessness.
“It (homelessness) is definitely a big social issue in this community,” Ochs said. “I know that the Manhattan area has a high homelessness rate. I’ve been told by many (shelter) staff that it’s a very high homelessness rate, and it’s very difficult for clients to get housing here because of how expensive it is.”
Though there is no completely accurate way to know exactly how many people in the Manhattan area are homeless at any given time, the shelter sees about 400 unduplicated clients per year, according to one of its night staffers Kaitlyn Jo Connor, senior in psychology.
The shelter’s website details several contributing factors to Manhattan’s homelessness population, including waiting lists and strict acceptance guidelines for public housing, as well as competition with college students and military members for local housing.
“Landlords are reluctant to take the risk of leasing to a homeless individual or family when more fiscally sound renters are available,” the website states. “As a result, MESI clients often rent overpriced, sub-standard units which perpetuate instability and homelessness.
According to Karen McCulloh, Manhattan mayor, a past city needs assessment identified another issue that plays into Manhattan’s cycle of poverty and homelessness: a lack of transportation access. Though Manhattan has a few public transportation options – such as ATA buses or Green Apple Bikes – McCulloh said many community members are not informed about them.
“We’re really working on that,” McCulloh said. “One reason people lose their job is because they can’t get to work. They have transportation, but it’s not reliable.”
State funding cuts to mental health programs and lack of initial support of mental health from the state government also take part in the city’s homelessness rate, McCulloh said.
According to Connor, Manhattan’s shelter is not an average homeless shelter; its staff works to connect clients with resources that will assist them on the road to regaining a residence.
“While we’re considered the Manhattan Emergency Shelter, and it’s not kind of what people think of as a homeless shelter, we’re not just a bed and a meal and then they (clients) head out,” Connor said. “We’re like an actual home.”
Each person who enters the shelter as a client is given a case manager upon arrival which, according to Connor, is an important aspect in preventing clients from losing their homes again in the future after leaving the shelter. The purpose of providing clients with additional resources, such as connections to detox centers or mental health facilities, can help in lessening the local homelessness cycle, Connor said.
“We’re really helping them get all of their bases covered before they leave our shelter and go back out, because if we just gave them a bed they’re not going to be able to find housing that’s going to stay,” Connor said. “If they have a serious mental illness, or if they have depression or alcohol addiction, they’re going to continue to lose housing.”
McCulloh said awareness is an issue that contributes to Manhattan’s poverty and homelessness cycle as well.
“I think the one thing is that people in Manhattan don’t really know we have a problem,” McCulloh said. “We lived in California for a while, and you have to walk around homeless in many places in San Francisco; they’re just right there on the sidewalk in front of you. We don’t have that here.”