‘I love my life’: homeless exist in McPherson

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By Managing Editor Teri L. Hansen

Not long ago, the McPherson Housing Coalition assisted a woman and her daughter. The pair had been living with friends and family, anyone who would take them in. When MHC Program Director Jean Ballew handed them the keys to their new home, it was better than Christmas.

“Is this really our house,” the eight-year-old girl asked.

“This is your home with you mom,” Ballew responded. “You’re going to be safe here.”

Ecstatic at the prospect of a home of their very own, the child burst out with “I love my life!”

A sentiment that is not expressed often, was said with such sincerity. This child loved her life because she finally had what many take for granted. A stable, steady home.

According to the Kansas State Department of Education, an estimated 54 students were considered homeless at USD 418 during the 2018-2019 school year.

“The trauma that you experience as a child affects you physically and mentally for the rest of your life,” Ballew said. “Homelessness is trauma.”

Statistics also show that 400 kids in the city of McPherson live at the poverty level and another 400 children live just above it.

“The biggest challenge that we face is that people don’t even recognize that there is a problem,” Ballew said. “In McPherson, homelessness is invisible.”

The McPherson Housing Coalition is a non-profit organization that began in 2008. They work through donations and grants to provide not just housing choices to the residents of McPherson, but affordable and stable homes to those in need through programs like the Emergency Solution Grant.

“Unless you have got a home, what can you do,” Ballew said. “Even if they are living with family, they know it is not their home.”

The ESG program assists those in need in order to provide them with stable housing, quickly. The candidates must fall below the poverty level and have children in order to qualify. These grants are through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. They allow for a family in crisis to be placed quickly in a home when the need arises, which happens more often than people may think. Statistics show that 1,099 people in city of McPherson live below the poverty level and another 1,300 people live just above. For those families at or below the poverty level MHC can help and do so for as long as it takes.

“We don’t just help somebody and then walk away,” Ballew explained. “We help them for as long as it takes, so that they aren’t back in six months.”

However, the program has been successful and the majority of those receiving assistance are doing well and on their own within six months. Ballew said she once head a speaker at a program say that homelessness should be rare, one time and brief. That is what the program strives to ensure, that those experiencing a homeless situation only experience it once and for a short time.

“We want people to not just survive, but thrive,” she said.

McPherson is a wonderful community, but it is not immune to the hardships of life and the housing situation doesn’t help. Studies show that 41% of renters are cost-burdened regarding rent, meaning that they spend more than 30% of their income on rent and utilities. MHC estimates that there is a need of 477 units of affordable housing in McPherson.

“We have only 288 available,” Ballew explained.

With all the need, there are many ways to help. The MHC’s ESG program currently has 13 families enrolled, with a total of 26 children. For the holidays, residents of McPherson have generously volunteered to provide gifts to the children. However, Ballew would love to see every family receive a $50 gift card to the grocery store for the holidays. Donations and volunteers are always appreciated. The coalition provides so many much-needed services in the community and the people spearheading the organization can see the difference.

It’s a great job, Ballew said. We get to make a difference.

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