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Advocates say Johnson County is leaving its unhoused population out in the cold

A group of people hold hands and hold their arms up in air as part of a prayer.
Zach Perez
A crowd of Johnson County residents pray for an end to homelessness outside the Project 1020 Cold Weather Shelter at a Good Faith Network rally.

The Good Faith Network, an interfaith community organization combating homelessness in Johnson County, held a rally Thursday morning calling on county officials to build a comprehensive plan to reduce homelessness.

Activists who contend Johnson County officials need to do more to find housing for those living on the streets rallied outside a homeless shelter in Lenexa on Thursday.

The protest organized by the Good Faith Network channeled frustration that the county hasn’t marshaled a comprehensive plan to help people without housing.

“This is happening in Johnson County, my friends, one of the richest counties in America,” Tim Suttle, who helps run the Good Faith Networks campaign against homelessness, said outside the Project 1020 cold weather shelter.

Suttle, a pastor at Redemption Church in Olathe, said the county makes it too hard to help the homeless.

“Every time we’d try to open a new cold weather shelter or take care of homeless people, we kept getting shut down by city governments or county governments.” Suttle said. “It’s a lot of red tape, regulations, permits, stuff like that.”

The Project 1020 shelter, one of the few in the county, can only offer 30 beds at a time. Shelter volunteers say the demand is much bigger than that.

They blame local government restrictions, in part, for the deaths of at least six residents once served by the shelter in the past two years.

“We must start holding our county officials accountable for the lack of support systems for people experiencing homelessness in our county,” said Jeff Smith, a Project 1020 case manager.

The rally concluded with a call to every Johnson County commissioner to meet with GFM representatives to discuss the creation of such a county-wide initiative to combat homelessness.

County commissioners responded to the organizers' criticisms in a Dec. 2 press release saying they planned to fill a new Housing Coordinator position by the start of 2023.

Additionally, county officials said the Board of County Commissioners has allocated $60,000 for a feasibility study for a community shelter in the county.

Updated: December 6, 2022 at 10:37 AM CST
This story has been updated to include a response from the Johnson County Commission.
As KCUR’s Community Engagement Producer, I help welcome our audiences into the newsroom, and bring our journalism out into the communities we serve. Many people feel overlooked or misperceived by the media, and KCUR needs to do everything we can to cover and empower the diverse communities that make up the Kansas City metro — especially the ones who don’t know us in the first place. My work takes the form of reporting stories, holding community events, and bringing what I’ve learned back to Up To Date and the rest of KCUR.

What should KCUR be talking about? Who should we be talking to? Let me know. You can email me at zjperez@kcur.org or message me on Twitter at @zach_pepez.
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