Community gaps & solutions: Coming together to address mental health, addiction & homelessness

Wichita Business Journal Panel with McCownGordon Construction addresses mental health, addiction and homelessness in Wichita KS

In 2022, 48 people died on the streets of Wichita, KS. This is one of the disheartening statistics that has ultimately influenced our community to take another huge step in creating a change. As City Commissioner, Ryan Baty stated, “Our Community is too good to let people suffer.”

In efforts to address homelessness, mental health and addiction, McCownGordon Construction hosted a panel with the Wichita Business Journal to foster an impactful conversation with keynote speaker, Julia Orlando, national expert and Director of Bergen County Housing, Health and Human Services Center, Wichita community members and local organization leaders.

With a population of nearly 1 million, Bergen County, New Jersey successfully reached functional zero. Having achieved functional zero means a community has measurable success in eliminating homelessness within their population and when it does occur, it is both rare and brief.

Orlando shared some of the values her community kept top of mind for them to achieve the functional zero status:

1. Complex problems require complex solutions.

In order for a community to reach functional zero it requires all hands on deck. This means that a community needs to use effective communication, establish and execute a shared focus and foster a culture of collaboration.

The ultimate complex solution is also creating a one-stop-shop for the homeless community where all resources are provided under one roof so that those experiencing homelessness are no longer in a transient state. Within the facility located in the heart of downtown Hackensack, NJ, the homeless population can receive 3 meals a day, a bed to sleep in, medical and mental health resources, rehabilitation services and assistance in accessing permanent housing.

2. Housing should be the ultimate goal.

While in the Bergen County facility, keeping permanent and sustainable housing in the direct line of sight is the team’s main priority. They ensure that any necessary resource and activity is accessible to make that a reality for the homeless residents who come into the center.

Orlando emphasized the belief that “waiting is not an activity,” and her team is consistently supporting and encouraging the homeless population to stay busy in order to get to their next stage where they are able to get into affordable housing options.

3. We need to put trust in one another.

To cultivate a true sense of community and address the situation that so many cities are experiencing with mental health, addiction and homelessness; we as community members need to truly join hands and resources.

The need for trusting community members is critical according to Orlando. Creating “warm handoffs” of resources and establishing a trust train within the community can create everlasting and positive ripple effects within our population.

“We have to remind each other all the time that at the end of the day, it is not about us, it is about the people we serve,” Orlando said. “This is servant work.”

4. There is value for the whole community when more people are housed.

Ultimately, once a community can reach functional zero, the city and its surrounding areas will experience a positive overspreading effect. When more people are housed, we can improve public spaces, lower the cost of public resources and create more availability for healthcare and public safety. This means that everything from our libraries and parks to our fire and rescue teams can be beneficially impacted by ending homelessness.

The Wichita community continues to take bold actions to end homelessness. A one-stop center of Wichita’s own is in the works that will foster a safe space and provide support services in hopes that we will be able to achieve functional zero in years to come. Sally Stang, City of Wichita, Director of Housing and Community Services, said that the City is hoping to have the site selected for this space by the end of the year.

“There is an incredible energy that surrounds Wichita that sets you apart in your focus on ending homelessness,” stated Orlando. “When I look at Wichita, I think this is a community that can end homelessness.”

A group of panelists discussing Mental Health, Addiction and Homelessness in Wichita, Kansas at a McCownGordon event
A group of panelists discussing Mental Health, Addiction and Homelessness in Wichita, Kansas at a McCownGordon event
A group of panelists discussing Mental Health, Addiction and Homelessness in Wichita, Kansas at a McCownGordon event