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Topeka JUMP looks to build community, reject isolation

Topeka WIBW-TV logo Topeka WIBW-TV 9/29/2020 Sarah Motter
a group of people standing in a parking lot: Topeka JUMP members rallied outside Topeka’s City Council Chambers to advocate for people struggling to find low-income housing. © Provided by Topeka WIBW-TV Topeka JUMP members rallied outside Topeka’s City Council Chambers to advocate for people struggling to find low-income housing.

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Topeka JUMP leaders of faith are seeking to build community and reject isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Topeka JUMP says during the COVID-19 pandemic, isolation and division have consumed many across Shawnee County. It said if the pandemic and calls for racial justice have shown it anything, it said it has shown it that every family faces challenges.

According to JUMP, people from across the county are sharing their experiences around feelings of powerlessness, desperation, anxiety and despair. It said during the fall of 2020, clergy and lay leaders across Shawnee Co. have been inviting people to share their stories, often pointing to injustice.

Topeka JUMP said listening is how it kicks off every year of justice ministry which began in 2013. It said it calls these listening sessions “house meetings.” It said every initiative taken on by the organization comes from these conversations on personal experiences of injustice residents face on a daily basis in Shawnee Co.

The organization said its mission is to “provide a powerful vehicle for marginalized groups in Shawnee County, Kansas to fight for justice.” It said it is made up of 28 congregations from Shawnee Co. and is politically nonpartisan with a diverse membership from North, South, East and West Topeka and even out in the county.

According to JUMP, over the last few years it has fought for more affordable housing, ride to work programs, a violence reduction strategy and payday loan reform.

JUMP said during September and October of 2020, around 600 people will be engaged in telling stories about challenges they face or experiences they have had with injustice. It said nearly every discussion has highlighted a shockingly similar story on an all too common problem - high rent and unsafe housing.

“Several elders told stories of having to move in the next few months because they have been notified that there is a new landlord taking over and the rent is increasing," said Carol Babcock, Topeka JUMP board member. "Just when we get new housing opportunities like the former Ramada Inn being converted to apartments, we lose other units from income-based rent to market rate.”

According to the organization, in Topeka, 33% of families can’t afford a two-bedroom apartment, of which the market rate is $785 per month. It said that the rate is 52% for African American families.

Topeka JUMP said it has spent the last half-decade advocating for more affordable housing. It said the group’s cause is gaining more traction with the recent “Housing Market Study” which was ordered by the City of Topeka. It said the number one recommendation of the third party study is to fund the affordable housing trust fund with public revenue.

JUMP said it has called on the city to do this for five years. It said in the summer of 2019, the city council established a housing trust fund, but has not yet dedicated funding to it.

According to Topeka JUMP, the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have made the gap for access to housing even worse.

“I was shocked when three families that participated in my discussion had been evicted from the Topeka Housing Authority in June and July during a lapse in a statewide moratorium,” said Melanie and Curtis Odum, pastors of In God’s House Church.

“Storytelling helps us understand that we are in this together," said Rev. Anne Flynn, deacon of Grace Cathedral and JUMP co-chair. "JUMP gives us a way to act powerfully rather than to be helpless.”

For more information on Topeka JUMP, click here.

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