Public input will be used by the Salvation Army in designing a year-round homeless shelter for Lawrence.
Lawrence Salvation Army officials want to build a new homeless shelter in Lawrence.
They want it to be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year.
Other than that, little has been decided about the shelter the Salvation Army is looking at opening, said Kelvin Heck, chair of the organization's advisory board.
The advisory board met Thursday to discuss possible programs to offer through the proposed shelter and scheduled two public forums on the topic: 7 p.m. Oct. 21 and 2 p.m. Oct. 24, both at the Salvation Army, 946 N.H.
The forums will have a strong influence on the shelter design, Heck said.
"We don't know what it's going to be yet," he said.
Lawrence homeless advocates celebrated the request for public input.
"I think it has to generate some good ideas and some good suggestions," said Hilda Enoch, who has been an advocate for the homeless community. "I think the community needs to feel they have some say into what kind of a building this is."
Community Drop-in Center board member Saunny Scott said she would encourage homeless people to attend.
"The public includes people who are homeless," Scott said.
Both women said there are many visions for what a homeless shelter should be.
Heck could offer an outline of some of the decisions that will have to be made.
- Size: Heck said the Salvation Army's winter emergency shelter has drawn 25 to 30 people a night in recent years. "We need a shelter to serve that many people at least," he said.
- Location: The Salvation Army property includes three commercial lots downtown. That may not be large enough to accommodate growth. "Whatever we build will have to be expandable," Heck said.
- Population: The idea has been to serve a general population, but programs might be geared toward families or other special groups. Heck said he was not interested in competing with shelters in town that already offer services to abused women or other special groups.
- Services: Heck said the organization wants to offer social services that would help people get back on their feet. "We like that idea " of not just being there year after year for the same people," he said.
One decision that may be controversial is the idea of a "wet room," a place where people who are intoxicated could get out of the weather. The Salvation Army emergency shelter does not take in people who are intoxicated.
"We don't know how to handle that yet," Heck said.
Another element likely to influence the final outcome is financing.
Heck said the Salvation Army will hire a consultant toward the end of next month to determine how successful a fund-raising campaign would be.
Heck said the cost could wind up anywhere between $1 million and $5 million.
If it seems possible, there would be a fund-raising campaign the first half of next year, Heck said.
But just as important are operating funds, Heck said.
The Salvation Army's current budget is about $400,000 raised through bell ringing, mail appeals, grants and the United Way.
A year-round shelter would add at least another $100,000 to that, Heck said.
Heck is optimistic that all the pieces will fall into place.
"To us, we're making a big decision to try to do this," he said. "It feels right."
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