TOPEKA (KSNT) – Topeka’s homeless crisis is catching the attention of federal leaders. Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kansas, recently toured a few homeless camps in the city.

(Photo Courtesy: William Bensur, Sen. Marshall’s Press Secretary)

Barry Feaker, former director of the Topeka Rescue Mission, said he invited Marshall. The visit occurred the same day the senator met with state agricultural leaders prioritizing mental health resources for Kansas farmers.

We were able to visit two camps during this visit and have conversations with some individuals currently experiencing homelessness. When we returned to TRM (Topeka Rescue Mission) we discussed the homeless issues locally and nationally. The visit and conversation with the Senator were greatly appreciated”

Barry Feaker, CEO of Compassion Strategies, Inc. in Topeka.

Topeka has struggled to figure out how to get a handle on homeless issues in the city. The population grew 22% this year over 2023. Marshall said his staff in Topeka shared this prominent topic with him, so he wanted to see the camps for himself.

“This challenge, this problem had risen to the level that my staff thought it was important that I go see this firsthand, with my own eyes,” Marshall said.

Marshall told 27 News he encourages community members to take the initiative to learn more about the issue.

“And I think the best way to be proactive is, I again salute the Topeka Police Department, I think they’re doing outreach,” Marshall said. “Go sometime yourself with the Topeka Rescue Mission volunteer to go with them to visit some of these people. What I would tell people is be a good neighbor, try to be a good neighbor, use some common sense. You know, I think that there are some homeless people in Topeka and other communities where it’s not safe to be around, and I think that we have to use some common sense, but we have to get to know which neighborhoods are safe.”

Both the Topeka City Council and Shawnee County Commission have enacted new ordinances to limit where people can and cannot camp. This includes banning camping within 500 feet of a public trail and 50 feet from a sidewalk.

The City of Topeka previously hired a consulting firm to help leaders address the homeless crisis. When the contract between the city and Sylver Consulting was originally approved, the initiative was scheduled to run from February to September 2023. The city issued a press release in late August stating the program was finally underway.

KSNT 27 News asked the city for an interview regarding the senator’s trip, but it declined. However, the city provided an update on its work with Sylver Consulting.

“Last week, both the Core and Auxiliary teams met in person and engaged in a productive discussion, resulting in the development of a project focus statement and the identification of nine stakeholder groups. The next phase of the project is what’s called the “discovery phase” which focuses on researching and really understanding homelessness in Topeka. The teams will be interviewing stakeholder groups over the next few months to lay a strong foundation for the project. No solutions have been identified at this point in the eight-month long project.

Gretchen Spiker, Director of Communications for the City of Topeka

KSNT 27 News has previously talked to neighbors and businesses about dangerous encounters with the homeless population. You can read about that here. One woman says she was bitten by a homeless person’s dog while on a park trail. Local police increased patrol on trails after the dog bite and an assault that happened about a month apart. Jose Arteaga, 30, of Topeka, was later arrested on rape charges in that assault.