Number of homeless students in Manhattan continues to grow, local organizations help


Homeless is defined for Manhattan grade school students in many ways: living in a car, kids at the emergency center, domestic abuse or living with other families for economic reasons. Stan Ward, coordinator of grants and compliance for USD 383, said if a child gets emancipated or runs away, there are many places around Manhattan he or she could go.

The fall semester started with 169 homeless students, which grew to 270 by the end of November 2016. That number was expected to continue to grow to around 350 homeless students by the new year, Ward said.

“About 15 percent of our kids fall into a circumstance where they are living with an adult who doesn’t have legal custody,” Ward said. “Half of 15 percent are high school students who are living on their own because they have run away, been thrown out, given away or emancipated from their parents.”

He said he appreciates how well the Manhattan community helps homeless students.

“One of the things I can tell you is that the Manhattan community has been remarkable of their recognition of the homeless students and for their support towards these students,” Ward said.

Lacey Salas, unit director at the 5th Street Boys and Girls Club of Manhattan, agreed with Ward when she said the community family aspect for these students is amazing.

A few organizations throughout the Manhattan community, such as the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act and the Boys and Girls Club, are working to support the homeless.

The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act helps students who lack a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence and children who need help with everyday tasks like school work and getting access to meals.

“Essentially, we enroll the homeless and see whether they have the correct documentation, assess them in the appropriate classes, get them what they need to attend class and get the support that they need to be successful,” Ward said. “If they need clothes, we get them clothes. They need their teeth checked, we take them to the dentist. They need glasses, we buy them glasses. If their parents don’t have transportation, we provide transportation for the kids.”

The Boys and Girls Club also provides help to homeless students with after-school programs and lower costs for childcare. Junnae Campbell, executive director of the Boys and Girls Club, said there are scholarships available for students who would otherwise may not have anywhere to go.

“I feel like we make a huge impact on kids who are struggling or don’t have a steady home life,” Salas said. “We provide a safe and consistent place for kids. When they don’t have anything else, they can have the reassurance that we are here and always will be, whether that be here for help with homework or having some stability in their lives.”

The Boys and Girls Club focuses on the students and their personal and educational needs.

“I think what programs like the McKinney-Vento Act and Boys and Girls Club does for families and students in harsh situations is something that needs to be done,” Taylor Clites, senior in construction science and former Boys and Girls Club employee, said. “I am glad that they have the support for the Manhattan community.”

The Families in Transition Closet (FIT) is a program developed under the McKinney-Vento Act to help the homeless through community donations. Items including school supplies, clothing and food are collected for families in need. Around 100 backpacks filled with food are given to students to take home every week, Ward said.

“The FIT Closet gets so much recognition and donations that we share with the Crisis Center, Emergency Center, Salvation Army, churches and more,” Ward said. “The whole intertwined network programs have come together for an unbelievable level of support.”

The FIT closet also opens their doors to struggling families, immigrant students, students in foster care and children with a Court Appointed Special Advocate.