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Number of housing insecure students in Wichita Public Schools doubles since last year

mckinney vento.jpg
Celia Hack
The district's McKinney-Vento program provides support for homeless students and those without their own regular night time residence.

More than 1,000 children are enrolled in the Wichita School district’s McKinney-Vento program as of early December. District officials say the program had around 500 enrolled at this time last year.

The number of children in Wichita Public Schools who are housing insecure has doubled since this time last year, school officials say.

More than 1,000 children are enrolled in the district’s McKinney-Vento program as of early December. Cynthia Martinez, the McKinney-Vento liaison, said that the program had around 500 students at this time last year.

“In the past, we’ve never had this many children,” Martinez said.

McKinney-Vento is a program that provides services to students from families that don’t have their own regular night time residence. That can include families who are living with friends or another family member, a definition that is broader than other federal definitions of homelessness. School districts are required by federal law to designate liaisons to support homeless children.

About 700 of the students enrolled in McKinney-Vento are staying at family and friends’ residences. The rest are staying in hotels, shelters or cars. Fifty-one students are unaccompanied youth, with no parent or guardian support.

“They helped us bus, hygiene products, you name it,” said Jennifer Kirkpatrick, who connected with McKinney-Vento in 2018 when she and two of her kids were on the verge of homelessness. “They’ve been there for us.”

In some cases, the increase in students has stretched the program’s resources. At the annual Gift of Giving event this year, in which parents can pick up gift bags for their kids, Martinez said McKinney-Vento was running low on gifts with one more day to go.

Local shelters such as HumanKind Ministries have also seen an increase in people under 18, according to the United Way of the Plains.

“HumanKind shared with us that they are seeing a huge increase in families accessing their shelter at the Inn,” wrote Matt Lowe, the United Way’s Community Impact Manager, in an email to KMUW. “At one point, they had 20-25 kids under 18 in their shelter. That is not the norm for them.”

Social service providers said they are seeing a few reasons for the increase in kids experiencing housing instability.

“They can’t find people that would rent to them,” Martinez said. “If you’re a family of five kids, it’s really hard for you to find a home, especially if you’re using a housing voucher to get into somewhere.”

The city of Wichita is seeking more landlords to accept housing choice vouchers and is offering cash incentives to those who do.

Wichita’s COVID emergency rental program ended this fall, as did the Kansas emergency rental assistance program.

“That was being utilized by many for rent and utility assistance,” Lowe wrote in an email to KMUW. “As a result, many have gotten evicted when they couldn’t pay rent.”

Cost-of-living increases for rent and utilities, the domestic violence rate and evictions are other causes for increased McKinney-Vento numbers, Martinez wrote in an email to KMUW.

Celia Hack is a general assignment reporter for KMUW. Before KMUW, she worked at The Wichita Beacon covering local government and as a freelancer for The Shawnee Mission Post and the Kansas Leadership Center’s The Journal. She is originally from Westwood, Kansas, but Wichita is her home now.