Newman University is proud to have three alums who are part of the city of Wichita’s new homeless task force, which is aimed at addressing the number of people experiencing homelessness in downtown Wichita.
The task force includes 18 individuals who represent sectors that interface with the homelessness ecosystem, including elected officials, care providers and professionals in education, health care and business, as well as a position for someone with current or previous lived experience.
These individuals include J.V. Johnston, Cole Schnieders and Ryan Baty — all of whom hold degrees from Newman.
Their involvement with the task force is a three-year commitment in which they’re tasked with finding solutions to sustainable funding support from the public and private sector for emergency shelter and low-barrier housing options, as well as providing de-escalation training for downtown stakeholders on how to handle crisis situations.
Johnston, who currently serves as the executive director of the Guadalupe Clinic, is the former vice president of institutional advancement at Newman and a 1982 graduate.
He’s currently running for a seat on Wichita’s City Council, in part because of his experience thus far with the homeless task force.
“I’m not on the task force because I have the answer,” he said. “I don’t have the answer, but I think if we get enough smart people together, get them all at the same goal, get them all on the same page, I think we can figure it out.”
Schnieders, a 2021 graduate and Harvey J. Ablah Award recipient, works at the United Way of the Plains, where he helps oversee the local Continuum of Care — a federal, grant-based program that’s designed to end homelessness in the community.
“The most rewarding part of my job is looking at our data over time and seeing progress made in ending homelessness, one person at a time,” he said.
Because of this work, Schnieders is well-suited to be involved with the homeless task force.
“Everyone has a right to live and thrive, and homeless services are the last-chance safety net for our neighbors,” he said. “Anyone can fall into homelessness. Something as simple as a failing car battery can send a person spiraling into not having a place to live. It’s important to me to be part of that safety net, to restore our neighbors’ human dignity with a basic human need: housing.”
Schnieders added that his hope for the task force is that it helps encourage the entire Wichita community to stand together to end homelessness for all — something that’s been on the rise in recent years.
“I know that if we all lean into the complex challenge, we’ll find it much easier to solve than if we pretend we don’t see it,” he said.
And for Baty, 2014 Master of Science in Education graduate, the ultimate goal of the homeless task force is to build a comprehensive plan that collaborates an entire community of stakeholders, including government, nonprofit, faith advocates and the business sector.
Baty, who owns The Mattress Hub in Wichita and was elected in November 2022 as the Sedgwick County Commissioner for District 4, shared that his three-year commitment on the committee is an extension of his work as commissioner.
“As a county commissioner, we oversee the budget and operations of COMCARE — our community’s mental and behavioral health clinic,” he explained. “It is simply not possible to make progress in the homelessness space without integrating mental health and substance abuse services into the solution. My primary role on this task force is to incorporate those solutions from COMCARE and find creative funding sources to better meet the very complex and growing needs.”
Baty added, “I truly believe we can accomplish something sizable for our most vulnerable populations. Frankly, we must live up to our ideals of valuing people and families.”
He continued, “What we are working on has a chance to be the gold standard nationally for how a community collaborates together to meet the needs of our people struggling with episodes of homelessness, mental health and/or substance abuse — and I’m determined to do my part in achieving that result.”
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