Heroes Of The Homeless Crisis: How Jaysen Van Sickle & Hope Faith are addressing the immediate and long-term needs of people experiencing homelessness and poverty

It starts with kindness. It is important to not look down on people who are experiencing homelessness. A smile or conversation can go a long way toward helping someone know you care. If they ask, I would be open to giving them a gift card to a grocery store or nearby fast food restaurant, or other food items you may happen to have with you.

As a part of my series about “Heroes Of The Homeless Crisis” I had the pleasure of interviewing Jaysen Van Sickle.

Jaysen Van Sickle is a father, professor and as of 2018, the Executive Director of Hope Faith — Homeless Assistance Campus. Jaysen completed his undergraduate degrees from KU and his masters’ degrees from Rockhurst, including an Executive MBA. Prior to joining Hope Faith full-time, Jaysen and his son were dedicated volunteers.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to ‘get to know you’ a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your personal background, and how you grew up?

Jaysen is a Texas native who relocated to Kansas City when he was 4 years old and jokes he’s been going to school ever since. With undergrads from KU and graduate degrees from Rockhurst, Van Sickle is now doubling as a professor and the Executive Director for Hope Faith — Homeless Assistance Campus (& Covid Relief Village) in downtown Kansas City, MO.

Is there a particular story or incident that inspired you to get involved in your work helping people who are homeless?

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (a motivational theory in psychology comprising a five-tier model of human needs: physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization) is really to credit. This job brings me joy; it fills my cup.

Homelessness has been a problem for a long time in the United States. But it seems that it has gotten a lot worse over the past five years, particularly in the large cities, such as Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, and San Francisco. Can you explain to our readers what brought us to this place? Where did this crisis come from?

There are many contributing factors which makes this a very loaded question. As much as we all want to end homelessness, when you’re in it and really seeing and understanding the many contributing factors to homelessness, you know there are many underlying factors that must be addressed. We know homelessness isn’t going away. It is our goal to reduce the amount of time someone experiences homelessness. That sometimes takes long term dedicated one-on-one consultation (aka case management) and other times, a few quick phone calls. This is not a one size fits all crisis nor is it always viewed a crisis. We believe in taking care of each other, and regardless of what brings someone to Hope Faith, we are committed to doing that.

For the benefit of our readers, can you describe the typical progression of how one starts as a healthy young person with a place to live, a job, an education, a family support system, a social support system, a community support system, to an individual who is sleeping on the ground at night? How does that progression occur?

Again, another loaded question as no two life journeys are exactly the same. We know a number of factors can contribute to this including but not limited to addiction, mental health challenges, tragedy, or any number of things that occur along one’s life journey. In this instance, for someone who had an income and a strong support system to become homeless, a catastrophic event, such as a job loss, an unanticipated medical expense or a divorce, may have occurred. If a person with the background you described came to Hope Faith, we would likely be able to provide them with the services and support needed to regain employment and housing.

A question that many people who are not familiar with the intricacies of this problem ask is, “Why don’t homeless people just move to a city that has cheaper housing?” How do you answer this question?

If only it were that simple, right? People experiencing homelessness cannot easily move. Transportation is a huge barrier. Without a car or money to afford a plane ticket or a bus pass, this is easier said than done. We have a program called Hope Cycles, which provides bicycles and cycling gear so that our guests can get to school, work and medical appointments. While this program helps with transportation locally, moving hours away or to another state is usually not possible.

If someone passes a homeless person on the street, what is the best way to help them?

It starts with kindness. It is important to not look down on people who are experiencing homelessness. A smile or conversation can go a long way toward helping someone know you care. If they ask, I would be open to giving them a gift card to a grocery store or nearby fast food restaurant, or other food items you may happen to have with you. Granola bars are great to carry with you. Another way you can help is by becoming aware of what organizations provide homeless services in your community and making sure people experiencing homelessness know about those resources.

What is the best way to respond if a homeless person asks for money for rent or gas?

Rather than giving cash, it is a better idea to give food, water, gift cards, blankets, clothing or other necessities.

Can you describe to our readers how your work is making an impact battling this crisis?

Hope Faith, Kansas City’s only daytime assistance campus, provides for the immediate and long-term needs of people experiencing homelessness and poverty throughout the Kansas City metro. In 2019, we served more than 6,000 unduplicated individuals.

As COVID-19 started spreading around the world and getting closer to the United States, my staff and I began planning for how we were going to continue serving our guests. Hope Faith has been designated an official homeless crisis center by the City of Kansas City, Missouri. To best meet the needs of our guests while complying with CDC health guidelines and social distancing recommendations, our homeless assistance campus expanded outdoors, allowing for services to be offered in a safe, secure village, where the risk of being infected with COVID-19 is decreased. Through working with the community partners and the city, we have also ensured guests exhibiting symptoms consistent with COVID-19 can be tested and quarantined at a nearby hotel.

We are serving approximately 200 individuals daily and providing the following services Monday through Saturday:

  • Breakfast and lunch
  • Sanitation stations
  • Heart to Heart International (International Medical Crisis Group) has their mobile medical unit assisting at our village. Swope Medical Group also reached out offering their mobile medical unit, too. We have acquired COVID-19 tests, so we are now able to help our fellow Kansas Citians even more.
  • Intensive case management that provides connections to human service organizations, area agencies and external mental health agencies. Hope Faith is the only agency currently providing case management services to people experiencing homelessness and poverty in Kansas City. Case managers also help with employment referrals and housing navigation.
  • Mail service
  • Men’s, women’s, and children’s clothing distributed as needed
  • Private indoor showers

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the homeless crisis, and the homeless community? Also how has it affected your ability to help people?

There is a lot of anxiety right now. No one knows how or when this is going to end. There are health and economic concerns that the homeless community have and providers grapple with daily. Fortunately, though, we have been able to rapidly adjust to a new reality and continue offering services, which would not have been possible without the generosity of Kansas Citians and our community partners.

One of the main initial concerns was how to quarantine individuals who lack housing. Now that a housing plan is implemented in our community for individuals who could have COVID-19, we are continuing to make sure everyone has access to sanitation products, can get their temperatures checked and have access to food, wellness checks and other necessities. We are working hard to help flatten the curve and reduce the potential for community spread. A virus this contagious could quickly overwhelm the homeless community and strain hospitals. With many of our guests having pre-existing medical conditions, they are more likely to have a severe case of coronavirus and be admitted to the hospital. Our job is to keep everyone as healthy as we can. In the coming months, our case managers will also be helping guests update their resumes and search for employment.

Can you share something about your work that makes you most proud? Is there a particular story or incident that you found most uplifting?

I remember sitting at my desk on Monday, March 16, thinking about how the heck we are going to pull off having an outdoor campus. I was staring at giant wedding tents on Amazon and finally said ‘screw it’ — and hit purchase on three 20 x 23-foot wedding/event tents. From that moment, everything became real and timelines were now set in motion. In seven days, we went from a one-click Amazon order to closing off Virginia Avenue. We assembled the three giant tents then anchored them into the street. Simultaneously, Veterans Community Project (VCP) coordinated to install barricades, port-a-potties, and dumpsters while other homeless agencies, corporations, churches, etc., were calling and asking what we need to make this a success. Between the Greater Kansas City Coalition to End Homelessness (GKCCEH), VCP, Hope Faith, Mayor Lucas and the City of Kansas City, Missouri, we had everything to man the front lines for months to come!

On Wednesday, March 25th, the Homeless Assistance Village went live. The night before, I was not able to sleep. My thoughts were consumed by how many people would need us in the morning and could we support and keep them out of harm’s way? From the moment we opened, I was shocked by the sheer volume of families, children and senior citizens who we had never seen before on our campus, asking for help. It became immediately clear to me that we were no longer a homeless assistance village, but a community assistance village.

Given that this is a medical pandemic, on Thursday, April 2, with help from my friend from Farmers Insurance, we received tents, tables and supplies to assist in creating our onsite first-aid space. That had an immediate impact. People from all over the Northeast community came to seek medical assistance. And the response from volunteer doctors, nurses, and even pharmacists has been mind-blowing. Non-emergency medical personnel have answered our call for a volunteer staff for our Hope Health onsite clinic. I will never forget the community support Hope Faith has received!

Without sharing real names, can you share a story with our readers about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your work?

A guest was housed just last week (during this current pandemic) and he had this to say: “I’ve been on these streets for more than 7 years. I filled out a VAT because I thought what’s the hurt in trying since everything else has fallen through. Today, I move into my apartment. I woke up feeling like I could breathe for the first time in 7 years!” The fact that we can continue partnering with people in this way, during a pandemic, is nothing short of a miracle.

Can you share three things that the community and society can do to help you address the root of this crisis? Can you give some examples?

Absolutely! 1.) Be kind. You never know what someone is going through. Lend an ear, a smile, whatever you can to lift someone up…it will lift you, too. 2.) Know your community. Know where people can go for help. Direct them there. 3.) Don’t look the other way.

If you had the power to influence legislation, which three laws would you like to see introduced that might help you in your work?

The main legislation I would push for is to provide more funds and resources to the agencies serving a population that get left behind or do not have the means to do it themselves.

I know that this is not easy work. What keeps you going?

What is keeping me going is making sure Hope Faith can continue serving our guests during the pandemic. As the virus came closer and closer to KC, I got less and less sleep. I struggled with how I would keep my staff safe, but at the same time, how would we continue to serve those experiencing homelessness and poverty through the turbulent months to come? I felt like the weight of the city was coming down on me. Every human ponders what their preordained ‘dare to be great moment’ will be, but when you are facing it, there is no manual for how to attack it.

Do you have hope that one day this great social challenge can be solved completely?

There is a lot of uncertainty about what the future holds for the homeless community because of coronavirus. How many more waves will there be? As states begin to loosen stay-at-home restrictions, when will the economy bounce back?

If we are hit with a second wave in the fall, homeless service providers and society in general should be better prepared to care for our communities, but the road ahead is long. People experiencing homelessness are extremely vulnerable to pandemics and natural disasters because they lack access to health care and have pre-existing medical conditions such as hypertension, diabetes and asthma. Then there are the individuals who will become newly homeless as a result of losing a job. Losing an income makes it hard to pay bills, but the psychological impact can be just as profound.

What I hope happens is that the lessons learned from the pandemic cause great reflection that lead us closer to eradicating homelessness. Natural disasters, just like Hurricane Katrina did, demonstrate the flaws and inequities in our social structures. We need to realize that many Americans are a paycheck or two away from not being to make their rent or mortgage payment. When we start looking at the problem this way, then there becomes greater urgency to destigmatize homelessness and look at what policies need to be adopted to make healthcare more accessible and increase the affordability of housing and child care.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. This pandemic would be a marathon and not a sprint!
  2. You would carry the weight of a population on your shoulders
  3. There would be many long weeks and sleepless nights
  4. You would have to deal with so many “Zoom Meetings”
  5. You would become the face and voice of your fellow homeless agencies

Either way, I would still do it all over again!

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

PAY IT FORWARD! I have always been a big advocate for your actions speaking louder than any words you speak. Until they become real, they are just words!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?’”

– Martin Luther King Jr.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

President Jimmy Carter. He wasn’t our greatest President, but his giving-heart is like no person I have ever seen. Just to grab lunch with him, listen to him and be in his presence…I truly believe he is one of the few ‘Mensch’ on this earth.

How can our readers follow you online?

I encourage everyone to visit Hope Faith’s website (HopeFaith.org) for more information on our services and COVID-19 response. You can also follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (HopeFaithKC).

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!

Heroes Of The Homeless Crisis: How Jaysen Van Sickle & Hope Faith are addressing the immediate and… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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