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Archive for Thursday, April 11, 2002

Helping hand

April 11, 2002

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Complaints about the city's existing homeless shelter shouldn't overshadow the important service it provides.

The Salvation Army's shelter for homeless people may not be everything some Lawrence residents want it to be. It is, nonetheless, an agency that is providing a much-needed service for the community.

That's why it's both practical and compassionate for the Lawrence City Commission to invest $20,000 to help keep the homeless shelter open year-round.

The Salvation Army recently announced that it would need an additional $60,000 to keep its shelter open through the summer. The shelter traditionally has operated only in the winter months and is scheduled to close for the season this month. The agency has collected $25,000 in private donations and will need another $15,000 on top of the city funds to meet its goal.

Although many residents have expressed support for the Salvation Army shelter, city commissioners also heard during their meeting Tuesday night from people who found fault with the agency. One resident objected to the Salvation Army's policy of denying entry to people who have been drinking alcohol and urged the city to invest in a homeless shelter "that's open to everyone."

Her concern isn't without merit, but it shouldn't overshadow the service the Salvation Army is providing with a minimal investment of government funds. The agency has both practical and philosophical reasons for its no-alcohol policy. A facility with resources to accept and assist homeless people with substance-abuse problems might be needed, but that's a different  and far more complicated  service. The Salvation Army shelter is up and running and, with some assistance, can provide year-round shelter for a group that needs it. Money to support that service is a good investment.

A local landlord also expressed concern that the shelter might compete with local rental properties. It seems an odd contention that people who could afford to live elsewhere would choose to sleep on the floor in a room full of other homeless people. The landlord said he had shown rental property to people who then decided to stay at the shelter instead of renting. "I have the concern," he said, "we're enabling people to get free housing instead of accessing regular housing. It's too convenient."

Being homeless hardly seems a "convenient" way to live. Even with a job, it would take a homeless person a few months to put back enough money to pay a month's rent and a security deposit. In most cases, the choice to stay in the homeless shelter instead of rental housing surely has to be a matter of finances, rather than convenience.

When he accepted the "Citizen of the Year" award at last Friday's Lawrence Chamber of Commerce annual meeting, local developer Bob Billings noted the need for Lawrence to take care of its homeless population. In the final analysis, he said, a community like Lawrence will be judged not on what it does for its affluent or even its middle-class residents but how it responds to those who are truly needy.

The Salvation Army homeless shelter is helping to care for some of the most needy people in Lawrence. Public and private financial support to further that effort is well-deserved.

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