Homelessness on the rise among Kansas schools

Thousands of students in Kansas don’t have a proper place to sleep at night. Homelessness is the highest it’s ever been in schools across the Sunflower State.

“It’s the worst feeling in the world knowing that you can’t provide for your children when you should be able to,” says Geary County mother Elizabeth Jones. She quit her job to take care of her four children, then the kids’ father lost his position.

“I didn’t have a home for my kids,” Jones says.

It’s a struggle that’s unfortunately common for many families.

“It’s not a black eye on a community to have people in these situations, it becomes more of a black eye when you ignore it,” says Marty Rombold, Transitional Living Coordinator or Homeless Liaison for Geary County, U.S.D. 475. She finds students who are homeless and gets them resources they need like backpacks, lunches and transportation.

These aren’t just kids living under bridges or out of cars, this is any child who doesn’t have a fixed, regular, adequate nighttime residence due to a parent’s job loss or economic hardship. So a child could be living out of a motel or doubling up with another family and they’re still considered homeless.

That definition comes from the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, put in place to make sure students have access to education despite their struggles outside of the classroom.

“The original law came out in 1987 but it didn’t really have any teeth to it,” says State Coordinator Tate Toedman, “And in 2002 it was part of No Child Left Behind law, so every district at that point was required to have a liaison.”

It also provides funds to nine school districts which see higher levels of homelessness, including Geary County, Topeka, Wichita and Kansas City.

“We’re given a grant from the federal government every year,” Toedman says, “This past year it was cut 12.5% from previous year, partly from sequestration. So we had about $390,000 that went out to the school districts, that’s a small portion of what the districts actually spend.”

The number of students in need of those resources continues to climb. It’s tripled since 2006 from 3,200 to more than 9,000.

“We’ve seen a dramatic increase,” Toedman says.

Yet, liaisons like Marty are still taking care of these families.

“We were without water several times and Marty’s resources helped me get my water turned back on,” Jones says.

Now with a steady job and stable home, Jones says she’s here because of Marty.

“I would have been living out of my car and I wouldn’t have my kids,” she says, “And my kids mean everything.”

The final count of homeless students in Kansas for the 2013-14 school year will be submitted in June and state coordinators expect it will exceed 10,000.

For the 2012-13 school year, below are the nine districts receiving federal grants, with their district number, name, total enrollment count and homeless count. There were a total of 133 districts that reported having at least one homeless student, out of 285 districts.

233 Olathe: 28,239 total – 427 homeless

259 Wichita: 50,357 total – 1,637 homeless

261 Haysville: 5,370 total – 253 homeless

290 Ottawa: 2,537 total – 228 homeless

383 Manhattan-Ogden:  6,319 total – 221 homeless

457 Garden City: 7,595 total – 357 homeless

475 Geary County: 8,089 total – 154 homeless

500 Kansas City: 20,837 total – 1,056 homeless

501 Topeka: 14,021 total – 630 homeless

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