Archive for Tuesday, May 6, 2003

Opening delayed for ‘open’ shelter

May 6, 2003

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Officials of an "open" homeless shelter originally scheduled to open in March now have their sights set on a June startup.

"We would like to believe it's June 1," said Saunny Scott, a board member of Lawrence Open Shelter Inc. "But we're just saying June because it might be June 30."

Scott said the opening had been delayed because of the time and expense in bringing the building, which it will share with the Community Drop In Center at 214 W. 10th St., up to city code standards.

The organization had installed sprinklers, smoke detectors and showers in the building, she said, but it now must do extra work to make sure the showers are accessible under the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"It's like everything we do, they pick up another code," Scott said.

City Manager Mike Wildgen said officials were trying to be accommodating with Lawrence Open Shelter, but there's only so far they could budget under city codes.

"Staff's been trying to help," he said. "But they can't say 'You don't have to have accessible bathrooms,' because that's pretty basic anymore. You still have to follow the codes."

The Lawrence City Commission has bent the rules to help Lawrence Open Shelter on one occasion, giving the organization permission to open shelter temporarily before going through the formal planning process. The organization did not take advantage of the special permission.

And the commission gave formal approval to the shelter's plans in March despite a negative recommendation from the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission.

Homeless advocates have also been critical of the city for not offering financial support. The City Commission tonight is expected to approve a plan for spending more than $1.6 million in federal grant funds -- a plan that includes no funding for Lawrence Open Shelter.

In a letter to the Journal-World published Saturday, Lawrence Coalition for Homeless Concerns Chairwoman Hilda Enoch criticized the Neighborhood Resources Advisory Committee -- an all-volunteer board -- for the decision.

"The city's Neighborhood Resources Advisory body has voted to ignore the most basic unmet needs of our homeless citizens," she said in the letter. Enoch was unavailable for comment Monday.

The committee rejected Lawrence Open Shelter's request for $21,000 to pay for the showers because members were unsure how long the organization will stay at the 10th and Kentucky streets location.

But Scott said her organization would not contest the grant decisions. Other organizations that are recommended for funding -- including the Salvation Army and the Drop In Center -- also need the money, she said.

"It's not like it's not going to worthy causes," she said.

The city subsidizes the Salvation Army homeless shelter at 946 N.H. But that shelter generally does not accept intoxicated guests; Lawrence Open Shelter accepts a broader range of clients.

The City Commission meets at 6:35 p.m. in City Hall, Sixth and Massachusetts streets.

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