Johnson County religious leaders demand more affordable housing in Kansas' wealthiest county
The Good Faith Network, an interfaith coalition of 27 local congregations and houses of worship, is seeking commitments from Johnson County Commission chair Mike Kelly to build a mental health crisis stabilization center and use of state and federal funds to address housing issues in Johnson County.
Local religious leaders on Tuesday night pressed Johnson County Chairman Mike Kelly to take action to address mental health, homelessness and affordable housing in the Kansas City area’s wealthiest county.
The Good Faith Network, an interfaith coalition of 27 local congregations and houses of worship, is seeking commitments from Kelly on a number of items, including plans for a mental health crisis stabilization center and the use of state and federal funds to address housing issues in Johnson County.
On Tuesday, hundreds of people gathered at Leawood’s United Methodist Church of the Resurrection for a “Nehemiah Assembly,” billed as the “largest gathering for justice in Johnson County.”
Speaking to those gathered, Kelly seemed to sympathize with the assembled crowd’s cause but stopped short of committing to their specific demands, noting that much of what they were asking for would require action by the full county commission.
Still, Good Faith Network leaders called the night a “breakthrough” in addressing homelessness and housing issues in Johnson County.
“That’s why all of us here have come together tonight: to combine our voices together to speak in unison for justice on behalf of the most vulnerable in Johnson County,” Pastor Cheryl Bell of United Methodist Church of the Resurrection said.
Leaders of the coalition asked Kelly to commit to bringing before the full county commission an item to to begin planning for a mental health crisis stabilization center, something the county currently lacks.
They also asked Kelly to lead the county towards “functional zero” homelessness — where occurrences of homelessness in a community are rare and brief — by making a motion in the next six weeks for the commission to direct staff to apply for $2 million in state funding.
As for affordable housing, the network asked Kelly to work with county staff to create an affordable housing trust fund for the commission to vote on before the end of 2023.
On Tuesday, they also asked Kelly to support using $10 million of the $32 million in leftover federal COVID-19 funds to go towards an affordable housing trust fund.
Kelly largely avoided committing to many of those specific demands, but he told those assembled on Tuesday that they can expect items on future county commission agendas “to discuss improving crisis services in Johnson County.”
He also said he would submit an agenda item related to researching the idea of hiring a homelessness coordinator and a full county homelessness team.
Some questioners pushed back on Kelly’s responses, urging him to make firmer commitments, but Kelly reminded them he was just “one of seven” county commissioners who would ultimately have to take action.
What happens next?
At the end of the event, Pastor Maria Campbell of Heritage United Methodist Church in Overland Park told the crowd the hope was to meet with Kelly again in coming days to further discuss the issues.
Campbell said the Good Faith Network will send representatives to the next board of county commissioners meeting on Thursday to let them know what happened at the Nehemiah Assembly.
“That hundreds came together in one space to lift up the needs of the most vulnerable in Johnson County, and we will tell them people of faith have a vision for a better Johnson County,” Campbell said. “We will tell them that this was a night of breakthrough.”
There are other interfaith groups in Kansas doing similar work, including Justice Matters in Lawrence and Churches United for Justice in Kansas City, Kan.
All of these groups — including the Good Faith Network — are backed by the Direct Action and Resource Training Center, a national coalition of interfaith networks addressing social justice issues in their communities.
Justice Matters recently held a prayer vigil in Lawrence in hopes of spurring the opening of the planned Douglas County Treatment and Recovery Center there.
Churches United for Justice is focused on affordable housing and violent crime in Wyandotte County, and hosted a prayer vigil in March to support a violent crime reduction program, 41 Action News reports.
This story was originally published on the Shawnee Mission Post.