Neighbors upset with the Lawrence Community Shelter are now pointing to a new study that shows police calls to the downtown homeless shelter have increased by 600 percent since 2003.
A report prepared by the Lawrence Police Department showed the number of times a police officer was required to go to the shelter building at 10th and Kentucky streets in-creased from 48 in 2003 to 290 in 2004, the shelter's first full year of operation.
"That says to me that there is a real problem over there," said Brandy Sutton, an attorney whose office is near the shelter.
The report also showed that through Nov. 25 of this year, police had been dispatched to the building 287 times. The building at 214 W. 10th St. has been home to a part-time drop-in center for the homeless since 2000, but it became a full-time site for the homeless when the shelter opened in December 2003.
Sutton is among a group of neighbors who plan to ask Lawrence city commissioners at their meeting tonight to exercise greater oversight of the shelter, which is one of two in the community but the only one that accepts homeless people who have been drinking.
Loring Henderson, director of the shelter, said the increase in calls wasn't evidence of widespread crime in the neighborhood. Instead, he said it showed that shelter staff members were active in preventing problems by calling police.
"It means that we're not letting things slide," Henderson said. "We don't want a situation to escalate into something more serious. We felt like we were trying to do the right thing for the neighbors."
Sgt. Dan Ward of the Lawrence Police Department said the report included calls made from someone at the shelter and from neighbors or others who asked that activity or individuals at the shelter be checked. The report doesn't detail how many calls came from shelter staff. But the largest category of calls - 50 in total - were for trespassing, which Ward said usually meant that shelter staff had asked for police assistance in removing an individual who was not welcome at the shelter.
The report did not include the number of times police were dispatched to properties surrounding the shelter. Sutton said that number would be significant, noting she had to call police because homeless individuals started a bonfire next to her office building.
Not all neighbors of the shelter are concerned, though. Laura Green, executive director of the Drug Policy Forum of Kansas, has an office directly across the street from the shelter. She said shelter guests always had been kind and courteous to her, and generally were less disruptive than many college students.
"They don't have wild parties late at night," Green said. "They have never been rude or discourteous or urinated in my yard. I think there is maybe some hysteria going on in the neighborhood."
But several upset neighbors are expected at tonight's meeting, where city commissioners are scheduled to review the shelter's use permit. Phil Hemphill, a neighbor and frequent critic of the shelter, gathered enough signatures for a protest petition that will force the five-member commission to approve a new permit with at least four votes. Hemphill said he would ask commissioners to set standards for the shelter and give it one year to show improvement.
The Oread Neighborhood Assn. also has asked the permit be re-evaluated after one year. Sutton said she would ask the commission to review the shelter's activities in another six months.
She said there might need to be required checks of backgrounds and identities of shelter guests to ensure that they were not wanted for crimes. She also said the shelter needed to more strictly enforce a policy banning individuals from shelter services if they caused trouble.
"There needs to be some tough love here," Sutton said.
But Henderson said the shelter generally had a list of 20 people at any given time who were temporarily banned. Suspensions can range from a few days to a year.
"But I don't feel it is appropriate to say someone is permanently banned," Henderson said. "When you say permanently, you are giving up on someone."