Interfaith organization will urge city and county leaders to confront homelessness and mental illness

by Ainsley Smyth

Members of more than 30 churches spent months researching homelessness and mental health in Wichita. Now the organization, Justice Together, is ready to share what they’ve found. 

The May 9, “Nehemiah Action” event will be held at Century II, 225 West Douglas at 6 p.m.  

Justice Together, made up of 35 religious congregations and other groups, has been working since January 2023 to identify key issues in Sedgwick County and to research solutions. 

Justice Together is an affiliate of Direct Action and Research Training Center (DART), a national organization that connects and trains local leaders and religious groups to research and propose solutions for problems facing their communities. Other DART affiliates exist in Lawrence, Kansas City/Wyandotte County, Johnson County and Topeka/Shawnee County, as well as in several other states. 

Volunteers from member congregations spoke to individuals affected by homelessness and mental health issues, as well as to local experts about how to combat these problems, said Rabbi Andrew Pepperstone of Ahavath Achim Congregation.

Proposed mental health solutions

Proposed homelessness solutions

  • Prioritize a housing first approach
  • Fully fund the Multi Agency Center and connected housing
  • A photo ID program that allows Sedgwick County residents to obtain a photo ID in order to more easily access services

They’ve invited city and county leaders to attend the event and consider implementing the proposed solutions.

“We’ll hold them accountable as partners,” Pepperstone said. 

Nancy Dinell is part of Justice Together’s Mental Health Research Committee. She said she knows how difficult it can be to access mental health care. 

“My husband and I adopted a special needs child 20 years ago and she has needed mental health care consistently,” Dinell said. 

Dinell remembered long hours spent in waiting rooms worrying about her child. She said having that experience made her think about people suffering from mental health issues who didn’t have what her daughter had: someone to advocate for them and insurance to take the brunt of the cost. 

Now, she hopes the solutions her committee has drawn up can help break down some of the barriers people with mental illnesses face seeking care in Sedgwick County. 

Justice Together is encouraging its members to invite others, with a goal of 2,000 attendees. 

“The barrier to doing it is so low and the impact is so potentially high,” Pepperstone said. 

Ainsley Smyth, a student at Wichita State University, is the Spring 2024 semester intern for the Wichita Journalism Collaborative.