The Lawrence City Commission will create a task force to devise a comprehensive plan to offer services to the city's homeless population.
Mayor Sue Hack made the announcement Tuesday during a hearing in which the commission approved Lawrence Open Shelter's request to open an overnight shelter in the same building that houses the Community Drop-In Center at 10th and Kentucky streets. The shelter would take in people who have consumed alcohol, who are not allowed at the Salvation Army's homeless shelter.
"That (task force) is near," Hack said. "We are gathering the names of people who have expressed an interest."
The commission voted 4-1 in favor of the shelter, despite a negative recommendation from the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission and neighborhood residents who said they feared the presence of more homeless people in their neighborhood.
"I believe this is the wrong location for this type of shelter," said Lois Schneider, who owns and manages nearby rental properties. "We never had much problems when it was just LINK (Lawrence Interdenominational Nutrition Kitchen). Now it's becoming the homeless area."
Kathy Wright, Lawrence Open Shelter's coordinator, said the organization would protect the safety of the neighborhood.
"We are not trying to house or aid and abet dangerous people," Wright said. "We'd be the first to call 911 if we thought there was any danger to our staff or the neighborhood."
The Salvation Army operates a city-subsidized shelter at 10th and New Hampshire streets. But it will not accept people who are using alcohol; Lawrence Open Shelter will provide an alternative.
City commissioners agreed the alternative was needed.
"I sympathize with the neighbors," Hack said. "This may not be the best location, but it's the best we have at this point. We need to help our citizens get to a better place."
Commissioner Marty Kennedy was the lone holdout.
"I have to follow, and I always have, my Planning Commission," Kennedy said. "They did not bring me a positive recommendation."
Commissioner Jim Henry made the motion to approve, seconded by David Dunfield. Hack and Commissioner Mike Rundle joined in voting yes.
Hack said afterward the city's task force would be announced in mid-April and would focus on how other cities have addressed issues with homelessness. Dunfield has joined Hack in preparing for creation of the task force, she said.
Lawrence Open Shelter officials said they should be open by mid-April.
In other action Tuesday:
- Commissioners deferred the proposal for a housing development at Sixth and Folks Road, which is opposed by neighbors. They had filed a protest petition against the project, forcing developers to obtain an unlikely 4-1 supermajority vote of the City Commission.
- Commissioners gave unanimous approval to create a benefit district under which neighbors of Orchards Executive Golf Course at 15th Street and Lawrence Avenue will pay $280,000 to help the city buy the course. The city will pay an additional $670,000 of the total $950,000 purchase price.