Members of a citizen advisory panel are urging Lawrence residents to get behind an $88,000 recommendation for an emergency homeless shelter here.
The Lawrence City Commission is scheduled to decide May 19 what it will do with a recommendation from the Community Development Block Grant advisory board. The panel of 15 citizen volunteers advises the city on how it should spend $1.3 million in federal CDBG aid. Two weeks ago the panel voted to endorse a plan to spend $88,000 to buy a house to be used as a year-round, emergency homeless shelter.
The house presumably would be given to a nonprofit organization or organizations at little or no cost. The homeless assistance groups then would be responsible for operating the shelter.
But commissioners are more likely to approve the panel's recommendation if they hear support for the idea from the general public.
``We need three votes (a commission majority).'' said Charles Jones, a Pinckney neighborhood representative on the CDBG advisory panel. ``I think the commission is very sensitive to homeless issues. And I think commissioners respect the work we do as volunteers on the advisory panel. But it's also important that they hear from the public on this. We want to make it politically possible for them to support this recommendation.''
``I think anything like this needs an expression of public support to go through,'' said Bill Wachspress, an East Lawrence neighborhood representative. ``And it will need public support to succeed as well.''
Although the panel's recommendation doesn't explicitly earmark the $88,000 for any specific Lawrence homeless organization, the volunteer advisers say they like the idea of the shelter being operated jointly by Project Acceptance and the Community Drop-in Center. Both organizations are in the midst of funding crises that threaten their existence.
Project Acceptance operates a shelter for the homeless mentally ill. The Community Drop-in Center recently lost is space at the Friends Meeting House and is looking for a permanent space from which to operate. The Project Acceptance board has voted to close the shelter June 30, unless new funding is found to keep it open.
``What happens if these people don't get the money?'' Jones said. ``These are very tough people whose hardest battles have been with their own difficulties. They're survivors and we should never count them out. But I sure think we ought to help them.''
Spokesmen for the Drop-In Center weren't immediately available for comment. But Sue Budd, co-founder of Project Acceptance, said the advisory panel's recommendation would be a godsend, if subsequently approved by the commission.
``It would mean the world,'' Budd said. ``It would mean we wouldn't have to pay rent. Our rent is very high. If we don't have to pay rent, that's about $13,000 we can put into staff and programs. We really thank the CDBG advisory board for their faith in us. I'll always have a good feeling about that.''
-- Mike Shields' phone message number is 832-7144. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.