By Keishera Lately, Topeka Capital-Journal

Topeka JUMP leaders in their annual Nehemiah action assembly on Monday had a big ask of community mental health experts. They walked away with a plan.

JUMP organizers asked Valeo Behavioral Health Care to expand its mental health crisis services, while also urging the Kansas Department of Aging and Disability Services to fund the proposed expansion.

Bill Persinger, CEO of Valeo Behavioral Health, gave his word the organization would bring critical mental health beds to Shawnee County, while Andy Brown, commissioner of Behavioral Health Services at KDADS, committed up to $3 million to support the effort.

The organization said it hoped to have more than 1,000 people in attendance, and it appeared to hit that number based on the number of people covering the floor and filling the stands.

Anton Ahrens, co-chair of Topeka JUMP, said the group is only scratching the surface of the work that needs to be done.

“We’ll be one of the first counties in Kansas to have these critical mental health beds for people in crisis,” Ahrens said. “We need them. Everyone in Topeka sees the results of people who have really severe mental health needs that aren’t being met.”

Change called on predatory lending, affordable housing and mental health

Persinger said the special project funding for crisis intervention center beds would allow for increased access to crisis care and follow-up care with patients.

“A place where people can stay for a few days, get back on their feet, get back home and to work while trying to avoid going to a state hospital — those are going to become a reality here in Topeka,” Persinger told The Capital-Journal. “It’s probably going to take a year or a year and a half. There’s work to be done, remodels, proposals to look at.”

Topeka JUMP leaders also focused on predatory lending, affordable housing and reducing violence in the city.

Last year, the group walked away with a commitment from the deputy mayor to find a way to put $1 million in the Housing Trust Fund. Last month, Topeka City Council members voted to allocate an additional $256,261 to the fund, bringing it up to its $1 million goal.

Pastor Annie Ricker, of Berryton United Methodist Church, said Topeka JUMP won’t give up on payday loan reforms.

“They want Kansas to ignore this problem,” Ricker said. “We won’t. We will not allow them to prey on Kansans anymore.”

JUMP leaders said payday lenders in Kansas charge an average of 391% APR interest rates for a short-term payday loan. So instead of providing help in financial emergency, payday loans trap people into debt.

Their goal is to get legislation passed in the Kansas Legislature that includes reforms of a reasonable cap on APR interest rates, a required option for installment repayments and limited initial fees.

View the original story here.