By Margaret Reist, Lincoln Journal Star

A coalition of 24 local faith communities expected 1,500 people at its annual assembly Thursday — a call to action on the issues of affordable housing, mental health and pretrial diversion — and the 2,000-seat sanctuary at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church was nearly full.

“We are people united as one and as one voice have the power to enter in the public arena where important decisions about the well-being of our community are made,” the Rev. Amy Slater with Southgate United Methodist Church told the crowd before leading them in a chant of “Justice in Action.”

Justice In Action is the name of the nonprofit made up of local faith organizations, which was created in 2022 with seed money from the Great Plains Conference of the United Methodist Church, which is working with national experts to build a network of nonprofit justice organizations across Nebraska and Kansas.

The group’s call to action this year was based on three issues they heard most often when they held a series of meetings to ask “what kept people up at night,” said Rev. Oscar Sinclair with the Unitarian Church of Lincoln and co-president of the group.

They did research, which they shared, along with specific goals they hope to achieve — and personal stories on each of the issues.

“There is power in our stories,” said the Rev. Andy Frazier, with Christ United Methodist Church. “There is power in sharing them and in hearing them and in remembering that we are not alone.”

City Council members Sandra Washington and Bennie Shobe were invited and sat on stage, and Public Defender Kristi Egger and Councilman James Michael Bowers were in the audience.

One seat that was noticeably empty was for County Attorney Pat Condon, a fact Justice in Action leaders made sure to point out to the audience.

Last year’s goals had involved increasing participation in the county’s pretrial diversion programs, said Judy Kelly, with the Unitarian Church of Lincoln, but that didn’t happen.

They’d planned to ask Condon to commit to removing certain barriers — but since he wasn’t there, Sinclair invited the audience to join leaders Friday morning on the steps of the County-City Building to confront him after a quarterly Justice Council meeting.

The group plans to ask him to eliminate the 90-day deadline to apply, allow those with non-violent felony or misdemeanor convictions to participate and eliminate the cost of participating.

Sinclair asked who would join him and a number of audience members stood.

“I will see you all there,” he said.

To improve access to mental health, they want to create a mental health navigation system, modeled after those in other communities that would help people navigate the often-difficult maze of services available to find the services they need.

They envision a system accessible by an app on phones or computers, with trained navigators that would walk them through the system, and a public education effort to reduce the stigma around mental health problems, said Jan Boller, with First United Methodist Church of Waverly.

Despite an alarming rise in mental health problems, people can recover and lead productive lives if they get the treatment they need — something a navigation system could help them get, she said.

Region V Systems, which coordinates publicly-funded behavioral health services, and several other organizations agreed to convene a navigation system working group with Justice in Action in June.

A new goal this year is to address affordable housing through the creation of a mediation process that would happen before eviction proceedings started, said the Rev. Kirstie Engel with First United Methodist Church.

Such a process would offer a lifeline to people about to lose their homes, she said, and called on Shobe and Washington to explore the issue.

“We know it won’t solve all the problems in our community related to affordable housing but it will help some of the most vulnerable,” she said. “And we are confident that it can work in harmony with other initiatives the city has already undertaken.”

View the original story here.