By Andrew Gaug, Johnson County Post

At its annual meeting, local advocates for the unhoused community were hoping to get commitment from Johnson County commissioners on solutions to end homelessness in the area.

In front of more than 1,500 people at its Nehemiah Action event Tuesday at United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, the Good Faith Network, an interfaith coalition of 27 local congregations and houses of worship, pressed Johnson County commissioners Shirley Allenbrand and Jeff Meyers on taking action to help unhoused people in the state of Kansas’s wealthiest county.

While both commissioners expressed the need for solutions, they stopped short of committing to the demands the group gave them.

“At this time, I’m not ready to do that,” Meyers said.

The group had three demands

  • Bring an action item to the Board of Commissioners for an Affordable Housing Fund, or money would be provided to developers to build more affordable housing, to be voted on by December.
    Earmark $4 million of the county’s remaining federal coronavirus relief money to create the fund in Johnson County. The money would be used to build an estimated 296 households, according to the Good Faith Network.
  • Direct the county’s Housing and Community Development Advisory Committee to draft recommendations based on community and stakeholder input for eligible uses and priorities for affordable housing funding for board consideration no later than November.
  • The demands would help the county’s goal of “functional zero,” a comprehensive plan to make homelessness in Johnson County as rare and brief of an occurrence as possible, the group stated.

It was a goal reiterated by County Chair Mike Kelly in his State of the County address in April. While Kelly, who was a special guest at the group’s 2023 meeting, did not attend the meeting, a video of him was showcased showing his support for the event.

Commissioners wouldn’t fully commit
While Allenbrand ultimately said yes to the demands, she answered them with caveats, such as she would consider earmarking the money if it’s available and that county staff would ultimately drive the advisory committee, not the commission.

“It takes a partnership (for) building these projects,” she said. “You have to get the cities to buy in, so it has to be a partnership. I would continue to have those go through our planning staff, and they have an advisory board. But ultimately, it lies in the staff to move that leadership forward.”

Meyers was less committal, touting the work the commissioners have already done, like committing $6 million in federal coronavirus relief money to build a homeless shelter in Lenexa, while expressing doubt for the group’s timeline for future goals.

“‘I won’t put myself into a corner where I say that I’m going to do something and not be able to follow through,” he said. “I don’t know that I can follow through with that timeline — not that I don’t want to, not that I don’t think it’s a good aspiration and an initiative to take forward.”

Despite the lack of commitment from the commissioners, representatives from the Good Faith Network will be attending the Johnson County Board of Commissioners meeting on Thursday to brief them on the event’s discussion.

The group remains optimistic
Beyond the questions to the commissioners, the meeting also featured notes of hope for the future of homelessness relief in Johnson County, with speakers such as Tim DeWeese, director of the Johnson County Mental Health Center, and Lindsay Livingston, a formerly unhoused person who found an apartment through Johnson County’s Housing Choice Voucher program.

While the group may not have received the commitments they hoped for, the response from people attending shows there’s a lot of support for them going forward.

“We are grateful for the breakthroughs that happened on this evening,” said Pastor Cheryl Jefferson Bell of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection. “We are grateful for the hope that we all hold to meet the needs of those that are homeless, those that have difficulty paying for their homes. And for those that have mental health concerns. We all have the passion, we all have the desire to see these needs to be met.”

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