UCS Hosts Kansas Public Policy Forum with a Focus on Addressing Homelessness Statewide
UCS hosted a full room on Tuesday, November 14, at the 2023 Kansas Public Policy Forum, sponsored by REACH Healthcare Foundation and United Way of Greater Kansas City. The annual meeting convened more than 100 community members, policymakers, agency partners, and funders at the Matt Ross Community Center in Overland Park.
The event marked the official release of the UCS 2024 Public Policy Platform, outlining priority policy issues for the upcoming legislative session. To kick off the morning, UCS Executive Director Kristy Baughman provided a brief presentation on priority policy issues and highlighted the work that UCS has been doing to educate elected officials on critical issues such as the housing continuum and other complex issues related to homelessness. Baughman called on participants to look at the priorities from the perspective of one who is seeking “upstream solutions” to the challenges of economic stability, housing, healthcare access, and well-being for all. All of these issues require the implementation of multiple best practices.
The morning continued with a panel featuring members of the Kansas Special Committee on Homelessness and agency representatives of two Continuums of Care on Homelessness coordinating services in Kansas. This included:
- Ranking Minority Member Rep. Heather Meyer representing part of Overland Park, a social worker with experience working with clients experiencing housing insecurity and homelessness.
- Tim Johnson representing parts of Basehor, Linwood, Kansas City and Leavenworth. Rep. Johnson spent 31 years in law enforcement followed by a second career in high school education.
- Cole Schnieders, the Continuum of Care Planning Manager for Impact ICT CoC, which is coordinated in part by United Way of the Plains in Sedgwick County, Kansas.
- Becky Gray, Executive Director of Building Health, Inc., part of the Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas, which is part of the Southeast Region of the Balance of State COC – which comprises coordinated homeless response for 101 counties in Kansas. The Southeast Region has established a highly effective response to homelessness.
- Note: Chair Rep. Francis Awerkamp, Chair of the Special Committee on Homelessness as well as the Chair of the Welfare Reform Committee, was scheduled to attend this panel but had a last-minute conflict and provided a brief written statement shared with attendees.
The panel explored a range of topics, but the key theme was effective approaches to address housing insecurity and homelessness in Kansas and opportunities at the regional and state levels. As Rep. Meyer said and the discussion demonstrated: “We must go deep on this issue to understand it at its core.” That means understanding the intersection of issues like foster care, criminal justice, substance use, mental health, income, and wages when it comes to housing insecurity and homelessness. The knowledgeable panelists shared data points, best practices, and lessons from the field with the audience. UCS Executive Director Kristy Baughman moderated the panel and fielded questions from the audience.
The final section of the event was a Legislative Look Ahead with Johnson County legislators. Facilitated by Patty Markley, UCS Public Policy Chair and Principal of Markley Strategies, the panel featured:
- Senator Dinah Sykes: Serves District 21, parts of Lenexa, Olathe, Overland Park, and Shawnee since 2017. Senator Sykes is the Senate Minority Leader and serves as Vice Chair on Confirmation Oversight, is Ranking Minority Member on the Education Committee and sits on the Legislative Coordinating Council. She is also serving on the Special Committee on Education this year.
- Representative Heather Meyer: Serves District 29, Overland Park, since 2021. Rep. Meyer is the Ranking Minority Member of the Committee on Welfare Reform and serves on the Legislative Modernization, Water, and Insurance Committees. She is also serving on the Special Committee on Homelessness this year.
- Representative Robyn Essex: Serves District 78, Olathe, since 2023 and sits on the Transportation, Water, Local Government, Insurance, and Elections Committees. She has also served as a City Councilmember for the City of Olathe since 2021 where one of her primary goals is to support “housing options that will fit any budget.”
Each panelist was asked to share a brief look ahead to what they think will be key issues for the 2024 Legislative Session. Key issues included addressing the closure and financial challenges of Kansas rural hospitals, local zoning considerations to meet housing needs, and particularly the importance of Medicaid expansion as an “upstream” solution to the “downstream” issues that our communities are facing.
Closing remarks came from Todd Jordan, Chief Community Engagement Officer at United Way of Greater Kansas City who commented on the critical role that housing plays by saying “You can’t self-actualize or reach full potential without housing.”
UCS would like to thank the more than 100 community members who attended the event, especially the elected officials in attendance. For more information about the public policy education and advocacy work at UCS, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Countdown to GivingTuesday
On November 28, 2023, people all around the world are coming together to tap into the power of human connection and strengthen communities and change our world. Will you be one of them?
UCS will be participating in GivingTuesday and we need your help!
By joining the GivingTuesday movement, you’re proving that in times of uncertainty, generosity can bring the whole world together.
Here is how you can get ready to give:
- Mark your calendar. GivingTuesday is on November 28, 2023.
- Give. On November 28, go to org/donateand give.
- Spread the word. Encourage your friends and family to join you in creating real impact on November 28 by sharing what our mission means to you and why you support our organization.
Let’s rally together to build stronger communities.