These Johnson County faith groups are uniting to tackle homelessness, mental health

Faith groups in Johnson County have formed an interfaith justice organization called Good Faith Network. This year, the group is tackling issues around homelessness and access to mental healthcare. Above from left, Jon Brudvig, pastor at Salem Lutheran Church; Maria Campbell, pastor at Heritage United Methodist Church; Cheryl Jefferson Bell, pastor at Church of the Resurrection; Tim Suttle, pastor at Redemption Church; Carla Oppenheimer of Grace United Methodist Church; David Cox, reverend at Saint Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church; Vicki Love of Grace United Methodist Church; Jennifer Savner Levinson of Congregation Beth Torah; and Ali Haynes, pastor at Indian Heights United Methodist Church. Photo credit Leah Wankum.

A number of faith-based organizations in Johnson County are banding together to advocate for mental health and homelessness issues.

Why it matters: Established in early 2020, Good Faith Network is made up of 20 local faith communities that hope to use their collective voice for change.

The organization selected the two areas of housing and access to mental health care as top priorities this year based on dozens of listening sessions with their congregations.

Housing challenges and mental health have also historically been listed among the top priorities for local elected officials, civic groups and nonprofits in Johnson County and the Kansas City metro.

Good Faith Network hopes to tackle these issues from a “justice” perspective, rather than duplicating efforts by charitable organizations from a “mercy” perspective.

“I think it’s exciting that this is our first year, and so much has happened, and so much progress has been made, virtually, all of us doing our own thing, but coming together and solving these issues,” said Cheryl Jefferson Bell, co-president of Good Faith Network and pastor of community justice at United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood. “It’s a wonderful thing.”

Members of Good Faith Network gathered last month to talk through the organization’s priorities. Photo credit Leah Wankum.

Good Faith Network, which is a local affiliate of The DART Center, a national network of faith-based community organizations, ultimately seeks to accomplish the following in Johnson County:

  • Increase access to mental health care services
  • Exploring options for a navigation hub for mental health services
  • Address crisis stabilization in mental health
  • Lead a coordinated strategy to end homelessness

Why now? “I think that some issues of injustice that might have been a little bit more hidden before COVID really came to light across all of the faith traditions, so people who had housing insecurity and people who had mental health challenges weren’t as visible or weren’t as prominent. They were exacerbated by COVID; some were caused by COVID. Some just became more visible. They had always been there, but we suddenly took notice of them more during COVID,” said Rabbi David Glickman at Congregation Beth Shalom in Overland Park and co-vice president of the Good Faith Network

On homelessness: “We’re trying to advocate now for maybe a subtle switch from managing homelessness to ending it, because what we’ve learned around the nation is that it’s actually doable, and there are a lot of places where it’s happening. And so, we’re just trying to raise awareness of that and advocate for that subtle shift from managing to ending homelessness.” – Tim Suttle, a pastor at Redemption Church in Olathe and co-vice president of Good Faith Network

Key quote on mental health care access: “Everything we’re doing is really radically upstream prevention. So people don’t find themselves in crisis and floundering and looking and panicking, ‘What do I do?’, or struggling in silence.” – Jennifer Savner Levinson, board of trustees member at Congregation Beth Torah in Overland Park and co-chair of Good Faith Network’s mental health committee

Next steps: The organization is concluding research on homelessness and mental health care access, and is hosting a “Solutions Briefing” on homelessness this week.

The briefing precedes the Nehemiah Assembly, a gathering of Good Faith Network members, on May 3 at the Church of the Resurrection. Details here.

Anyone interested in attending the Nehemiah Assembly, getting involved or learning more about Good Faith Network — including folks without ties to a faith or local faith group — can visit https://www.thegoodfaithnetwork.org/contact.

In the top image, pictured above (from left): Jon Brudvig, pastor at Salem Lutheran Church; Maria Campbell, pastor at Heritage United Methodist Church; Cheryl Jefferson Bell, pastor at Church of the Resurrection; Tim Suttle, pastor at Redemption Church; Carla Oppenheimer of Grace United Methodist Church; David Cox, reverend at Saint Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church; Vicki Love of Grace United Methodist Church; Jennifer Savner Levinson of Congregation Beth Torah; and Ali Haynes, pastor at Indian Heights United Methodist Church.