Feaker advised that they are moving to shut down both their thrift store locations. At press time, the South Topeka Boulevard will have ceased operations, with plans to end service at the North Topeka location in late October 2019. They assisted TRM in moving their surplus of donations, provided job training opportunities to their clients, and met the need for low-cost items in their neighborhoods. But with an increase in local thrift shops, flea markets, discount stores, and online vendors, the expense of keeping these shops outweighed the intended impact.
“Rather than spending dollars (to have thrift shops), people would rather feed people, shelter people, deal with the trauma that people have, and educate them to get them on their feet.”
It also presents TRM a chance to assess what changes they would consider in their programs and services.
“Some people are absolutely saying, ‘you’re doing too much.’ What that lends is an opportunity for me to say ‘what do we not do?’ And if we don’t do it, who does? If we cease attempting to prevent some things from happening, we pay for it on the back end.”
Feaker is eager as always to activate dialogue at every level, with every stakeholder, including the general public.
“The other potential here is that it creates an opportunity for a greater community conversation about the value of the whole system,” Feaker explained, sharing an example of annual collaboration between TRM and a partnering agency. “How do we support each other’s efforts going forward?”
“We decided we needed to start this conversation (with our community partners) over 10 years ago. What that created was not only a conversation but a response. Now with the threat of some of those going away, it’s not like ‘why do we do that?’ but ‘how do we do that?’”
An example would be their relinquishing of NetReach and their work in the Hi-Crest neighborhood to Jonathan Sublet. He is the pastor of Fellowship Bible Church’s Hi-Crest location and board chairman of SENT Topeka, a community development nonprofit that does similar work as what TRM did with NetReach.
Another is their work against human trafficking, which some have criticized as weakening their work against homelessness. Feaker sees the former contributing to the latter, sharing their accompanying approach to both issues with the YWCA Center for Safety & Empowerment.
“We spent quite a bit of time saying ‘who wants to do what? Who wants to take the safe house? Who wants to take the drop-in center?’ Both the Domestic Violence shelter and our shelter have victims of human trafficking in them. We decided that they would take the drop-in center, helped direct some money toward that, and we acquired another undisclosed location. We’re still renovating. Our staff person and the YWCA work together so there’s collaboration.”
He shared information about Freedom Now USA, a separate nonprofit aimed squarely at combating human trafficking, of which he is also executive director.
“It has 21 different sectors of the community that we have helped get organized. You have law enforcement working with social services, working with the faith community, working with the education system, working with the media, working with the military, to identify the threat network.”
Feaker also made sure to underline Valeo Behavioral Health Care’s role as a critical partner in their response to mental health crises, especially when there are overlapping factors to respond to.
“Our staff integrate almost every single day. Valeo has come to us to help do the human trafficking intervention when they identify a victim of trafficking inside their crisis,” he explained. Valeo also partners with Topeka Police Department on a behavior health unit, where each police officer is trained specifically in crisis intervention.
In addition to their collaborative service outreach, Feaker and his staff continue to be emboldened by robust grassroots support, and intend to remain that way for as long as possible. By the time the article reaches print, many private community stakeholders and their audiences will have raised nearly $1 million for Topeka Rescue Mission in reaction to their clarion call. These funds will carry TRM and its services for the remainder of 2019, Feaker estimates.
“I’ve seen so many programs over the years that are government grant-supported,” he begins. “There are political changes. There are high competition for those dollars on levels way beyond Topeka, Kansas. So when you have a downturn in government grants, if you’re funded that way primarily, (and) you go to the public, they don’t understand you.”
“The grassroots capability without government infusion gives us a voice at the table with policymakers that’s different. We’re not at the trough. When I went in to talk to the Kansas Legislature about human trafficking, I asked them to declare war on it in Kansas. ‘I’m not gonna ask for a dime from you.’ They don’t hear that very often. When there has been any kind of social policy that needs to move a certain direction, we have a constituency that believes in what we do because they are a part of it. It’s all by choice. I’ve had a few situations over the years where government has come in and they have said ‘you need to move. You need to get out of the way. You need to close this down because it’s in the wrong spot.’ I’ve said ‘we want to do what’s best for the community but here’s some ramifications of moving that could disrupt the ecosystem for a lot of people. I’d like to go to our contributors and share your opinion with all of them.’ We have a constituency that has power.”
It’s his belief and intention that this power is to protect the interest of the homeless, the poor, trafficking victims, and vulnerable children and youth, not to drive political influence over local and state policy.
“We know we’ve got a crisis when it comes to issues like foster care,” recalling a recent conversation he had with Kansas Governor Laura Kelly, a lifetime educator. “Now is an incredibly great time to take that forward. We have a group of people who believe in that. That’s (what) private-fund, voluntary involvement (is) – a buy-in.”