A new Lawrence group announced Tuesday that it wants to shelter the city's homeless alcohol abusers and other down-and-out substance abusers.
Lawrence Open Shelter announced its existence at a meeting of the Lawrence Coalition for Homeless Concerns. The news came the same day the Salvation Army opened its cold weather shelter. The Army opened the shelter more than a month earlier than usual in order to help provide year-round sleeping quarters for the city's homeless.
But the Army doesn't allow people suspected of drinking into its shelter unless they first pass a Breathalyzer test. Open Shelter members said that leaves some homeless on the streets.
"The intent here is to supplement the services that are already available," said Mary Rosenthal, a member of Lawrence Open Shelter. "The Salvation Army has been good to us. ... What we're trying to do is complement what you do, take the people who don't fit into what you're doing."
Salvation Army officials listened to the announcement, but offered no comments.
The news raised questions whether a "wet" shelter might encourage substance abuse among the city's homeless. The Army's policy, some coalition members suggested, encourages the homeless to stay sober.
"There is a real important issue here about enabling," said Mike Caron, a member of the coalition.
"It's a real tightrope," said Steve Guinn, a member of the new organization. "What we're looking at is providing a safe place for those who are chemically dependent, but a place for them to hang out.
"We don't need to mix families and folks who are chemically impaired."
Saunny Scott, president of Lawrence Open Space, suggested a "wet" shelter would provide a first step in helping homeless substance abusers overcome addiction.
"I just feel you can't rehab somebody when they're dead," she said.
Scott said Lawrence Open Shelter is already searching for a shelter site "within walking distance of the (Kaw) River."