In the early days of the pandemic, one of the biggest challenges was serving those who could not self-quarantine due to homelessness. We asked Jaysen Van Sickle, executive director of Hope Faith – Homeless Assistance Campus, how does he prepare; how does he maintain; how does he continue the mission? Here’s his story:
“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 low-income 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.
Like other businesses, we began by implementing inside protocols that would help pre-screen for high temperatures, setting out hand sanitizer everywhere, and wiping down all the surfaces constantly. But as the CDC kept pushing more gathering restrictions, we finally had to make a drastic decision to move our entire operation outside to allow for an open-air environment to provide additional safety for both our staff and those seeking our help.
I remember sitting at my desk on Monday, March 16th, thinking about how the heck we are going to pull this off. 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, 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 wasn’t 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 2rd, 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.
Just when I thought we had gone as far as we could go to serve our fellow Kansas Citians, the GKCCEH then reached out to tell us that Heart to Heart International (International Medical Crisis Group) is bringing their mobile medical unit to assist at our village. Then Swope Medical Group reached out offering their mobile medical unit, too. And then we got word that we acquired COVID-19 tests, so we can help our fellow Kansas Citians even more.
I am working seven days a week and still not sleeping that well. If you ever wonder about the resilience of a city, all you have to do is take a look at Admiral Boulevard and Virginia Avenue. My exhaustion will pass and I will get caught up on sleep, but I will never get back these moments where I witnessed a team of non-profit individuals put their own interests aside and stand the line to take care of those who need a hand up!”