Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

FIT Closet Provides Clothing, Supplies to Homeless Students ; Manhattan-Ogden District Seeing Rise in Homeless Youth

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

FIT Closet Provides Clothing, Supplies to Homeless Students ; Manhattan-Ogden District Seeing Rise in Homeless Youth

Article excerpt

MANHATTAN -- Each year, Stan Ward, coordinator of federal and state programs and grants at Manhattan-Ogden Unified School District 383, reports the number of homeless students and their families in the district.

The count is required by the federal McKinney-Vento Act of 1987, which protects the rights of students who are homeless to attend school and ensures them equal access to quality education.

"I would report six to 10 kids a year. Then one year, in 2006, we had over 70. Nobody knew what was going on," Ward said.

Today, the number of homeless students and their families in the district has crossed the 260 mark.

Ward said factors contributing to the increase include a growing disparity between the wealthy and poor in Manhattan; lack of affordable rental housing; an increase in migrants who come to the area to work in construction and other jobs; and low-paying jobs.

"It's an invisible problem in the school district," he said, adding the number of homeless students at USD 383 is proportional to that found in Wichita and Kansas City.

Last spring, however, a local newspaper article about the growing number of homeless individuals in the Manhattan-Ogden area caught the attention of citizens, Ward said. Since then, the community has become more aware of the needs of the homeless, and some residents have turned their concern into action.

With the help of more than a dozen local churches, numerous community organizations and hundreds of donors, the Families in Transition Closet was established during the 2013-14 school year in a detached classroom at Lee Elementary School. The FIT Closet provides food, clothing and other essentials to homeless students and their families.

"It's in its second year now and support hasn't diminished," Ward said. "If anything, it's growing."

In early March, the FIT Closet moved into a small house owned by College Avenue United Methodist Church because the school district anticipates needing the detached classroom space in 2015-16 due to increased enrollment. …

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