WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — Wichita and Sedgwick County are trying to find the perfect solution to several problems in the community — homelessness, substance abuse, and mental health issues.
The program includes peer support specialists — people who have gone through their own challenges and have first-hand experience to help others get back on their feet.
Kevin – 11 years sober
One of the specialists is Kevin Langehennig. He said he is living a good life, but it came with many ups and downs. He said his problems started after he got out of high school.
“My best friend died right after we graduated,” Langehennig said. “I started drinking heavier, the drinking led to cocaine, and I had untreated mental health. I didn’t take it seriously, so that led to getting in trouble with the law and also, suicide attempts.”
Eventually, he ended up in jail with a drug felony. Then, in 2010, his probation was revoked, and on May 27, 2010, he hit one of his lowest points and attempted suicide.
“Called 911 and told them to bring a hearse because I’d be dead by the time they got there,” Langehennig said. “I lived behind my work in a ratty travel trailer, and I didn’t want anybody that I worked with to come in and see me… but I wanted somebody to come.”
He remembers waking up in a San Antonio hospital.
“They airlifted me. I was still alive,” he said. “When I woke up in the ICU, I said it’s time to just get sober.”
It was not easy. Langehennig had another suicide attempt in rehab, then finished his time in jail. After that, he lost the job he had before his arrest and was homeless. It was about the same time that Haven for Hope opened its doors.
“My mental health worker in Fredericksburg told me Haven for Hope just opened,” he said. “So, I ended up here, lived in the courtyard, and then got over onto the campus side.”
Langehennig received counseling and was able to stabilize his medications. He also went back to school and became certified to be a peer support specialist.
“When I got here, my case manager believed me until I started believing in myself,” he said. “After a while, I was like, you know what? Believing in yourself feels good. Then, you know, it just kind of just goes good from there.”
He is now 11 years sober and helps those who are going through something similar.
Steven – Wichita man finds help in Texas
Steven Holliday was also homeless when he arrived at Haven for Hope. Originally from Wichita, Holliday moved around. While in Texas, he couldn’t afford his apartment and ended up on the streets for a month. After that, he went to Colorado and lived under a bridge for another two months.
“I had money but couldn’t get a motel room,” he said. “So I bought blankets, gloves, socks, and cardboard boxes surrounded behind me to keep me warm, but it just got so bad, I couldn’t take it.”
Holliday heard about Haven for Hope and was thankful to find resources all in one place.
“Just like that, I got on my feet and made it,” he said. “I get SSI every month. I got money.”
Holliday is currently going through the program and said it’s changing his life for the better.
“This is a place to get on your feet, to get you out there in society to make it on your own,” he said. “What more can I ask for? I’m blessed, you know. We serve an awesome God. That’s all I can say.”
Both men said the Haven for Hope program was their saving grace and the help they knew they needed.
“Everything that came from not taking my mental health seriously and my addiction at all, like it all built up,” Langehennig said. “All those bridges were burned, so I had to start over again.”
He said he is proud to see another community like Sedgwick County work towards a similar program because it can help people who have battled similar challenges and change them for the good.
Langehennig and Holliday have stories that are not uncommon in many communities, including Wichita and Sedgwick County. In 2020, 56% of the homeless population in Sedgwick County said they have a serious mental illness, and 41% said they have a substance use problem, according to the Point-In-Time Homeless Count. Some experience both.
“Be patient and stay compassionate, because change, change is possible, but it’s not possible if you give up on a person,” Langehennig said.
This is the second story in a continuing KSN series focusing on mental health and substance abuse treatment and homelessness facing Wichita and Sedgwick County.
This article is a collaborative effort involving two members of the Wichita Journalism Collaborative, KSN-TV and The Journal, a print and digital magazine published by the Kansas Leadership Center. To report on this story, Journal contributor Mark Wiebe and KSN reporter Hunter Funk traveled to San Antonio to learn about the mental health system there. The Wichita Journalism Collaborative funded the trip through a grant from the New York City-based Solutions Journalism Network. The Wichita Journalism Collaborative, an alliance of seven media organizations and three community groups, formed to support and enhance quality local journalism. In addition to KSN, media partners include The Active Age, The Community Voice, The Journal (Kansas Leadership Center), KMUW, The Sunflower and The Wichita Eagle. Community partners committed to participating in the initiative include AB&C Bilingual Resources, The Elliott School of Communication at Wichita State University and Wichita Public Library.