BY LAURA KRUG
Would you help your neighbor if you knew they didn’t have a place to sleep or were struggling to find their next meal? Sadly, that situation is much more likely than you would think. On Tuesday evening at Breathe Coffee House, Dr. April Terry’s social justice honors class and the Global Leadership Project teamed up to create a community dialogue on the state of poverty and homelessness in Hays.
Six students from the class presented on specific aspects of these challenges in 15-minute speeches. A dozen community members, alumni, and students gathered in the shop’s basement to hear facts about a problem that many people are not aware exists.
Hays Mayor Shaun Musil and Breathe Coffee House owner Patrick McGinnis were in attendance along with several alumni, FHSU students, and Hays locals.
The six students spoke about the causes of common problems and possible solutions to them. Dr. Terry acknowledged that poverty and homelessness affect numbers of college students at FHSU.
“We have no idea exactly how many students are homeless, couch hopping, or are food insecure. We are working on gathering more data on this.” Terry said.
Holly Sieving spoke on rural-specific issues and lack of resources.
“Ellis county has a 16% poverty rate, which means one in eight people are in poverty,” Sieving said.
Miah Haines spoke on housing-related issues.
“In Hays, 43% of our population are renters and on average the rent for a two-bedroom house is $769.00 a month,” Haines said.
If you are spending a majority of your income on rent, you are unable to spend it on food and further contribute to the local economy. If this is over 30% of your income, you are considered an overburdened renter. 47% of all renters in Hays are overburdened. Hays does offer low-income apartments. However, much low-income housing is not up to standard and has a negative effect on the resident’s mental and physical health.
“Substandard conditions in the home affect young children the most. If homes are not up to standard it can lead to underdevelopment,” Haines said.
Bree Hysaw spoke on food security. The inability to access nutritious food for the whole family is a problem that many people in poverty must face.
“When you are poor and have all of these other financial priorities such as paying rent and healthcare, food is the first to go,” Hysaw said.
Obesity rates among the poor are going up because they can’t afford nutritious food and do not qualify for government food programs such as SNAP.
Tessa Simon spoke on K-12 and FHSU student-specific needs. FHSU provides the Tiger Food Exchange in Forsyth Library which is a free source of food items for students. However, students with food insecurity still face the stigma of accepting donations.
Tevin Rice spoke on employment.
“With the unemployment rate in Hays being under 3%, it can be difficult for anyone to find a job,” Rice said.
James Budge concluded the conversation by speaking on how we can help benefit people affected by poverty.
Although Hays does not have a soup kitchen or homeless shelter, local churches and community groups help bring resources together.
“In order to help this problem that many people face, we must end the stigma,” Budge said. He explained that often loneliness and hunger often go together for those who are in need. By connecting to these people personally and letting them know that it is okay to ask for help, lives can be changed.
Dr. Terry’s social justice class and the Global Leadership Project hope to start a dialogue with community members in Hays that can create real change in the way we approach poverty and homelessness, and change lives.
“Let’s make this a “we” problem and not an “us and them” problem,” Hysaw said.
The group plans to meet again on April 28th for another community discussion.