Hours before Jae Edgar Bennett died Thursday, he had gotten three homeless people housed and even more vaccinated against COVID-19.
The founder of Street Medicine KC died unexpectedly, the organization announced on Friday morning. Board member and pharmacist Marissa Taylor said she was still processing the loss.
“It’s absolutely tragic,” she said.
Bennett founded Street Medicine KC in 2016 to provide medical and psychological services to the homeless community through mobile services and a clinic at 1444 East Eighth Street.
Taylor said Bennett brought the spirit of an entrepreneur and grassroots organizer to his work, and that he knew the ins and outs of the system to get people housed.
“He was always coordinating and collaborating,” Taylor said. “It’s always about what are the actual needs. Jae is a person who isn’t going to tell somebody what they need. It’s not going to be like ‘Oh, I know better than you. You need XYZ.’ It’s going to be ‘What do you need? What are your goals?’”
During the winter months, the clinic was used as a warming center for about 40 people every night. Bennett also worked on longer-term solutions, finding more than 70 people a permanent place to live in the past seven months, Taylor said.
On Thursday, Bennett helped three more people secure housing. He and a group of volunteers also conducted outreach to get homeless people in Kansas City vaccinated against COVID-19 through a partnership between Street Medicine KC and Swope Health.
On Friday, Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas said Bennett “knew we could do better for all Kansas Citians, no matter insurance, housing status or health history.”
Ronald Ford volunteers with Street Medicine KC and is experiencing homelessness. He was one of the recipients of the Moderna shot.
“I’m one of the guys he’s helped,” Ford said, showing off his vaccination card.
Ford met Bennett last August and has been volunteering with the organization since then. He was able to get connected to food stamps and Medicaid with Bennett’s assistance.
Ford said the way Bennett ran Street Medicine KC wasn’t like other organizations, where people get shuffled around or referred to other places for resources.
“He was true to his word,” Ford said. “He had a big heart.”
Earlier this year, Bennett spoke to The Star about the center and his work on finding solutions to address homelessness.
“It’s humanity,” he said. “This is supposed to be done.”