When the Salvation Army's seasonal homeless shelter opened Tuesday, Rachelle Conrad wasn't allowed inside because she had been drinking.
Instead, Conrad spent the night on the lawn in front of the Army's building at 10th and New Hampshire, covered with a blanket loaned by shelter officials. The next day, she sat down with Salvation Army Capt. Carolyn Schuetz for a talk.
"She talked to me how easy it was to panhandle and maintain the (drinking) lifestyle," Schuetz said Friday. "The only snag was the shelter."
Conrad's death came just days after a group calling itself Lawrence Open Shelter announced its intention to build a so-called "wet" shelter a place where homeless alcohol abusers can stay as an alternative to the Salvation Army.
Her death seemed certain to ratchet up the debate over whether such a shelter would be helpful or merely knock down a reason for homeless persons to stay sober.
Gary Miller, president of the Lawrence Coalition for Homeless Concerns, said he didn't know if a wet shelter would have saved Conrad's life.
"That's a pretty big question," he said.
"She would've had a place to go, so it could have. At least she wouldn't have been out in the elements," Miller said.
Sharilyn Wells, director of Project Acceptance, was one of the last people to see Conrad alive, about 8:30 p.m. Thursday. Wells had no doubt that a wet shelter would have been effective.
"People with these problems need someplace to go besides the park," she said. "It's not safe."
But Terry Bewick, a homeless Lawrence resident, said a wet shelter won't solve anything by itself.
"If you don't rehab (residents) in any way, they're going to die of cirrhosis rather than exposure," Bewick said.
That's why a community detox center is needed, others said. Representatives of the coalition have approached Lawrence Memorial Hospital about starting such a center but have received no answer yet. LMH officials were unavailable to comment Friday.
"I guess the hope that I have is that the hospital will come through with a treatment program, a place people can stay until they can get into transitional housing," said Hilda Enoch, a coalition member.
Tami Clark, director of the Community Drop-In Center, agreed.
"If there had been a detox center here, I can't help but think that would have made a difference," Clark said. "If it wouldn't have helped her, then I think it would have helped others."
Schuetz of the Salvation Army, meanwhile, was struggling with the idea that perhaps Lawrence, with its myriad of social services, already makes it too easy to be homeless and perhaps that is why Conrad died.
"She killed herself drinking," Schuetz said. "She didn't kill herself sleeping in the park."
Police haven't ruled out the possibility of foul play in Conrad's death.
Staff writer Mike Belt contributed to this report.