By Stacey Saldanha-Olson, Topeka Capital-Journal

About 775 community members across 29 Topeka churches filled Washburn’s Lee Arena Monday night for the Topeka Justice, Unity and Ministry Project’s (JUMP) annual Nehemiah Action event.

Each year, JUMP has an event to bring together the participating community to present information on the organization’s main justice initiatives.

The event was scheduled for May 6 but was moved to Monday because of bad weather. Three presentations were given on the mental health crisis, violence reduction and homelessness.

“Obviously when we had to reschedule, I was a little bit worried, but we had on one single week’s notice 775 people here,” JUMP director Sarah Balzer said. “So I think that’s just a testament to how relevant the issues are and the willingness of folks at our JUMP congregations to stand up and take some action. So I was very happy with that.”

Deputy Mayor Christina Valdivia-Alcalá attended and said it was her first time attending as an elected official.

“I’m comfortable with the realm of social justice because my husband and I have been doing social justice for the better part of our adult lives,” Valdivia-Alcalá said. “So I feel like it went well. I feel like there was important topics addressed, and I just hope that people here can continue to encourage people to watch the council because that is where it’s happening.

“And that’s along with county meetings because then we can truly see what’s going on in government.”

How to address mental health issues in the Topeka area
During the mental health presentation, Bill Persinger, CEO of Valeo Behavioral Health, said the project to build a crisis intervention center had grown from three beds to eight or more. This will be either an extension built on one of the other buildings on the Valeo property or will be a separate building on the property.

“It seems like our overriding goal that we have a plan for is to add on pretty major square footage,” Persinger said.

Kansas Department of Aging and Disability Services behavioral health commissioner Drew Adkins said funding for the new intervention center has already started coming in with the state committed to giving about $3 million for the project.

Leroy Alston, of El Shaddai Ministries Community Church, talked about the violence his family had experienced in the area. His daughter had been shot and he said he could’ve taken justice into his own hands but chose not to go after those who hurt his daughter.

“I could have taken that under into my own hands,” Alston said. “By the grace of God, I didn’t. Could you imagine?”

After Alston’s speech, Community Inspired Violence Intervention Coalition or CIVIC members Danielle Twemlow and Courtland Davis said their organization is receiving over $500,000 in funding over the next two years to address violence within the community.

“I’m really excited to be able to tell you that we were able to secure a Department of Justice grant through our stage, which is awarding over $560,000,” Twemlow said.

Susanna Wesley UMC member Ralph Anderson spoke about being homeless and living out of his Volkswagen Beetle.

He held up two bookbags and told the audience they held everything he carried with him when homeless. Then he asked the audience whether they could pack their lives into those two bags in 10 minutes and what that would look like.

Anderson said anyone can become homeless in an instant and Topeka needs a low-barrier shelter, a shelter that doesn’t have all the same requirements that other shelters, which can create barriers for homeless people.

“Please, please, you’ve got a job, get this low-barrier shelter together,” Anderson said. “There are people taking what they can along the street. All they want is a home and to become your neighbor again. Please help us. Please.”

Shawnee County District 2 Commissioner Kevin Cook said it is the community’s job to help those in need and that they should help carry those bags and heavy loads for people like Anderson when they need them.

“Mr. Anderson, I don’t think you should have to carry your bags by yourself,” Cook said. “I think it’s the responsibility of all of us to help you carry your bags. Yes, that is something that we should consider.”

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