Books & Resources to Help You Empathize or Get Support in Tough Times

During the ongoing challenges of the pandemic many people are facing situations they never imagined might affect them. This includes homelessness, hunger and mental health challenges. Our community agencies and organizations have responded well.

Many others are looking for ways to understand and support individuals who are facing tough times. One strategy is reading. Reading fiction helps people develop empathy for others. Explore this list of books (fiction and nonfiction) about homelessness to better understand and empathize with our homeless neighbors.

View complete list

Local Resources

Explore these resources to find services for your family or better help friends and neighbors get the help they need.

Mental Health Care

“Many of us have just experienced a year mixed with chaos, social isolation, loneliness and a severe disruption to our daily routines,” said Aimee Copp-Hasty, Valeo Behavioral Health Care. “At Valeo, we know that these factors have caused an increase in depression, anxiety and substance use. It’s now time for self-reflection and action. If your depression, anxiety or substance use is negatively impacting your daily life and/or relationships, it’s time to reach out for help!”

Valeo operates a Crisis Center, 400 SW Oakley Ave, that is always open for mental health emergencies. It’s a walk-in center, no appointments required. Valeo also has a 24-Hour Crisis Line answered by a licensed clinician who specializes in mental health issues and identifying suicide risk factors. Valeo’s 24-Hour Crisis line is: 785-234-3300.

Valeo provides 29 mental health and substance use disorder recovery services in Shawnee County. They serve anyone who needs assistance regardless of their ability to pay. Valeo serves 7,000 consumers a year.

“Valeo is here to provide hope to our community because we believe recovery is possible!” said Copp-Hasty. “Recovery is possible, we know, we witness it every day!”

Valeo Crisis Lines

  • Shawnee County Mental Health Crisis Line Valeo (ages 18+) Open 24/7 1-785-234-3300
  • Valeo COVID Crisis Counseling services 1-785-233-1730 ext 4152 through or 1-800-273-8255FSGC Stronger Topether

Family Service & Guidance Center

  • Shawnee County Mental Health Crisis Line FSGC (17 & under) Open 24/7 1-785-232-5005
  • Anyone who is struggling due to COVID-19 can visit and a staff member will get back to them to help connect them to local resources and information.

Homelessness & Food Assistance

Safely sheltering homeless individuals and families, and feeding the hungry is the Topeka Rescue Mission’s primary focus. These are complicated issues in normal circumstances but during a pandemic these issues intensify. Their work this last year included increasing access to food through Operation Food Secure. This program gets USDA food boxes the “last mile,” directly into neighborhoods where those in need live.

Barry Feaker, executive director of the Topeka Rescue Mission, said, “During the past months we have watched the need for food continue to increase. With the help of more than 80 partners we have been able to address those needs and show them the power of a caring community.” Learn more about the neighbors helping neighbors model of Operation Food Secure.

Food Assistance

  • United Way Resources – Dial 211 from any phone to speak with a referral specialist 24 hours a day about any service needs you may have. Available in English and Spanish.
  • Jayhawk Area Agency on Aging coordinates services for older adults.
  • Meals on Wheels of Eastern Kansas serves seniors and homebound individuals in Shawnee, Jefferson and Douglas counties.
  • Shawnee County K-State Research and Extension maintains a map of local food pantries, feeding sites and food giveaways. Enter your address to find resources nearby.
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as the Food Stamp Program, provides qualifying low-income households with food benefits, and food preparation and nutrition education. In Kansas, the program is known as the Food Assistance Program.The Food Assistance Program serves as the first line of defense against hunger. It provides crucial support to households that are elderly and/or low-income. This includes people who are unemployed, disabled and/or transitioning from welfare to work. Food assistance customers can spend their benefits to buy eligible nutritious food, and plants and seeds to grow food.

Mobile Access Partnership (MAP)

Valeo Behavioral Health Care, Topeka Rescue Mission, Stormont Vail Health and Topeka Police Department’s Behavioral Health Unit are launching the Mobile Access Partnership (MAP) in May 2021. Local churches will host a mobile facility that provides shower, laundry and restrooms to Topeka’s unsheltered population and other individuals in need. MAP will add a mobile food pantry and mobile health service unit later in 2021.

“MAP is a collaborative approach, creating a mobile continuum of social, health and behavior health services to Topeka’s unsheltered homeless population, as well as reaching persons whose living/housing situation is precarious,” said Bill Persinger, CEO, Valeo Behavioral Health Care.

Domestic & Sexual Violence, Stalking & Human Trafficking Services

The Center for Safety and Empowerment, part of the YWCA Northeast Kansas, provides FREE and CONFIDENTIAL services to victims of domestic and sexual violence, stalking and human trafficking in Shawnee, Jackson, Brown and Wabaunsee Counties. Kathleen Marker, CEO of the YWCA Northeast Kansas, said she has noticed an increase in people seeking services this year.

“Survivors deserve to feel safe at home and a call to our hotline is the first step to getting connected to an advocate who can give you options,” Marker said. “Advocates are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week through the free and confidential helpline 1-888-822-2983.”

Community Resource and Referral Line – 211

Call 211 to find resources and options when you are facing a new circumstance or a crisis.

  • Dial 211 from any phone to speak with a United Way referral specialist about COVID-19 or any other service needs. The hotline is available 24 hours a day in English and Spanish. 

Eviction Prevention and Utility Assistance

  • Housing and Credit Counseling Inc (HCCI) provides tenant landlord counseling services. They also provide information and referral to housing and housing-related services.
  • The Kansas Emergency Rental Assistance program (KERA) provides rental and utility assistance to households experiencing financial hardship due to the COVID pandemic.
  • The Operation COVID-19 Basic Needs Assistance Program is a foreclosure/eviction mitigation and utility prevention shut-off program created by the City of Topeka and administered by the Community Resources Council. $1.5 million in CARES Act funds are available to qualified applicants to help cover expenses and help keep people housed and with utilities.

Lissa Staley helps people use the library. She is a Book Evangelist, Trivia Emcee, Classics Made Modern book discussion leader, NaNoWriMo Municipal Liaison, and frequent library customer. She loves her kids, being a librarian, living in Topeka, and helping people form connections and community. (She's the Community Connections Librarian!) She reads a new book every few days, but is enjoying the audiobook of "Empress of Forever" by Max Gladstone, the ebook "When We Were Magic" by Sarah Gailey and is eagerly awaiting John Scalzi's "The Last Emperox" in April!