By Stacey Saldanha-Olson, Topeka Capital-Journal

The Topeka City Council chamber was packed Tuesday as the local governing body discussed how to address homelessness in Topeka.

The mayor and council voted Feb. 7 and hired Sylver Consulting for $76,080 to recommend strategies to address homelessness. Then in July, the city restarted the process after former city manager Stephen Wade was fired.

Tuesday was the first time the consulting group presented options to the city and recommended actions for the next four years.

Topeka employees worked with city and community leaders
While looking for ways to combat homelessness, the city worked with two main teams: A core team that addressed day-to-day work, and an auxiliary team that handled more specific angles.

Housing navigator Irma Faudoa and Topeka Police Department Maj. Jana Kizzar were co-leads of the initiative.

The core team included the following members:

  • City attorney Amanda Stanley.
  • Senior paralegal Bonnie Williams.
  • Housing Services Division director Carrie Higgins.
  • Property Maintenance Division director John Schardine.
  • Streets operations manager Todd Workman.
  • Valeo Behavioral Health Care CEO Bill Persinger.
  • TRM Ministries Inc. executive director La Manda Broyles.
  • Topeka Housing Authority president Trey George.
  • District 2 business owner Pedro Concepcion.
  • Assistant Shawnee County counselor Ashley Biegert.

The auxiliary team included the following members:

  • Topeka Fire chief Randy Phillips.
  • Topeka Police Department Capt. Colleen Stuart.
  • Topeka planning and development director Rhiannon Friedman.
  • Topeka public safety communications specialist Rosie Nichols.
  • Topeka community engagement director Monique Glaudeˊ.
  • Topeka City Councilwoman Christina Valdivia-Alcalá.
  • Compassion Strategies CEO Barry Feaker.
  • Shawnee County Department of Corrections director Brian Cole.
  • Shawnee County Landlords Association president Steve Vogel.
  • YWCA program director Becca Spielman.
  • Habitat for Humanity CEO Janice Watkins.
  • TRM Ministries Inc. representative Haleigh Hipsher.
  • Community member Cory Chandler.

Topeka JUMP shows support for homelessness recommendations
The consulting company recommended creating a low-barrier homeless shelter, a village of eight tiny homes and a resource center where homeless people could access various services.

The creation of a low-barrier shelter was supported prior to the meeting by Topeka JUMP. During its annual Nehemiah action meeting, speakers said they supported bringing a low-barrier shelter to Topeka. They also recommended the city model its possible shelter after Avivo Village in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Members of JUMP came to Tuesday’s meeting to show support for the low-barrier recommendation.

“I, along with many other members you see behind me — mainly in yellow — are here tonight representing because of my personal experience with homelessness,” said Matthew Whitney, who is on Topeka JUMP’s homeless committee. “Now that I have stable housing and a lot of others get back on their feet, JUMP is here tonight to share our support for a low-barrier shelter and are excited that the findings of the homelessness initiative aligned with our own research.

“Low-barrier shelters are a critical part of addressing homelessness because they reduce the common obstacles that prevent people from seeking help, like having to stay sober and attend classes. We’re having to leave the past behind.”

Jill Rice, a member of the Hi-Crest community, said the recommended resource center could be actualized sooner if the city worked in tandem with all the services Hi-Crest already offers.

“So, I just wanted to present to the body as a need that’s going to be presented to you tonight, a resource center for the homeless community. It’s in progress, and it’s already up and running in pushes,” Rice said. “There are pieces of this that we have desperately been wanting to bring in and we’re wanting to partner with other people in the community.

“If we have a little bit of push and a little bit of support, we can see that vision come to reality much quicker.”

Topeka City Council members consider homelessness recommendations
No formal action was taken during Tuesday’s meeting.

Council member Brett Kell stated he previously voted against hiring the consulting company because he felt like this could have been figured out in-house. He said he thought the presentation glossed over specific needs.

“My thing is, we didn’t really look at the new or the borderline homeless and those families that ‘Let’s catch it before we come out,'” Kell said. “Let’s stop it and be that stopgap right here.”

Consulting president Brianna Sylver asked the commission to keep in mind the state of the presentation was meant to be broad.

“I think it’s important to recognize where the stage of all of this is because you asked us to go abroad,” Sylver said. “You said understand what is really the situation and then what is causing and creating homelessness in our community, which is what we spent basically from September to December.”

Councilman Spencer Duncan asked if the timeline could be adjusted since the permanent city manager Robert Perez won’t start until June.

The same presentation will be given to the Shawnee County Commission on June 3.

View the original story here.