The first Nehemiah Assembly for the Johnson County-based Good Faith Network included commitments for improved mental health services and decreased homelessness by county officials, with some efforts already underway.
A product of the Direct Action & Resource Training network, or DART, the Good Faith Network consists of 20 congregations in Johnson County, including nine United Methodist Churches. It began as a part of the conference’s Doing Justice Initiative.
The May 3 assembly, at the Leawood sanctuary of United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, drew about 1,200 people. Two UMC pastors — the Rev. Cheryl Jefferson Bell of Resurrection, and the Rev. Maria Campbell of Overland Park Heritage UMC — are the co-presidents of the ecumenical network.
“People of faith have a vision for a better Johnson County,” Campbell told the audience.
In Nehemiah Assemblies, government officials are invited to hear proposals for improvements in the selected areas, answer questions and make verbal commitments for the projects. Three of the seven Johnson County commissioners who attended — open meetings rules prevented any more, which would have been considered a quorum — pledged to advance the efforts.
Two of the commissioners, Janeé Hanzlick and Becky Fast, both have backgrounds in mental health and social work before being elected to office. The third, Shirley Allenbrand, told the audience she had lost her brother to suicide and was very concerned about mental health.
They said mental health concerns had to be approached at a statewide as well as local level.
“We need to work with our legislators to fully fund mental health,” said Fast, a member of Prairie Village Asbury UMC.
The mental health research committee of the Good Faith Network, whose co-chair is Ali Haynes, pastor of Overland Park Indian Heights UMC, recommended a crisis stabilization center for the county by 2025 that includes:
Services to any individual who presents at the facility of their own accord.
24/7 access and service availability to all first responders.
Sufficient capacity to meet the needs of the community.
Assessment, intervention and coordination of care and follow-up for individuals with any combination of behavioral health concerns, including co-occurring substance abuse disorder.
Capacity for extended evaluation and continuing observation for those admitted.
The homelessness research committee asked for commitments from the commissioners for:
Pathways to Housing First principles (rather than temporary housing).
Year-round, 24/7 low-barrier emergency shelter that includes all segments of the homeless population.
Prioritized direction of local, state and federal funds (including rescue plan funds) to activities that end chronic homelessness, including the creation of permanent supportive housing.
The commissioners in turn asked for the Good Faith Network to keep in contact with them, including being present at meetings.
“Oh, we can show up,” Haynes exclaimed.
Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr., a supporter of the Good Faith Network, delivered the opening prayer via video.
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