Archive for Friday, June 24, 2005

City to expand homeless services budget

Funding to fall far short of task force’s $919,000 suggested increase

June 24, 2005


The city's homeless will receive a boost in the city budget next year but not nearly as much as the $919,000 in new money that a city task force had recommended.

Commissioners on Thursday informally agreed to add nearly $170,000 to the city budget to hire new case workers to counsel the homeless, but commissioners passed on many of the other recommendations made by the city's Task Force on Homeless Services.

The group, which has studied the issue more than two years, said that it would take $4.7 million in public and private money over the next three years to adequately tackle the homeless problem.

In the first year, most of the money was being sought from city coffers. City commissioners made it clear that wasn't going to happen.

"What we have is a recommendation from a group of people who worked very hard," Mayor Boog Highberger said. "But we can't fund it to the level requested in the report at this point. But we can make some improvements."

Specifically, commissioners directed City Manager Mike Wildgen to include new money in his recommended budget for:

¢ Four new case managers to provide counseling and other assistance. The counselors would likely be stationed at the Salvation Army, Lawrence Community Shelter and an undetermined location. Commissioners said they wanted the task force to come up with more details about who would manage the program. The estimated cost for the counselors is $160,000 per year.

¢ A new Community Commission on Homelessness that would work with homeless service providers and make future recommendations to the City Commission. The city agreed to provide $6,000 for administrative support for the new commission.

Commissioners also agreed to provide $20,000 in one-time funding for 11 area agencies to purchase a homeless management information system that will allow them to share information about the people they serve. That money would come from the city's existing Housing Trust Fund.

But commissioners left alone several recommendations, including a $500,000 request to help build a new $2.5 million shelter, and $220,000 to create a team of mobile medical professionals to travel to where the homeless are to provide physical and mental health care.

No piecemeal

The omissions left some task force members with mixed emotions.

"I think it is a good step in the right direction," Shirley Martin-Smith, a member of the task force, said of the commission's decision. "But one of my concerns is that you can't piecemeal this plan. If you only choose to fill one gap, it doesn't solve the problems that the community has brought forward to us."

The commission's decision Thursday wasn't final. The homeless funding could still be subject to change while commissioners finalize the 2006 budget. That could take until early August. Some commissioners said there still needed to be a more serious discussion of what the city's future role would be in funding homeless services.

Task force recommendations

The city's Task Force on Homeless Services focused on six areas where services could be improved for the homeless: ¢ Mental health services, including a call for Lawrence Memorial Hospital to reopen its inpatient mental health unit, and an emergency outreach team that would address the physical and mental health of homeless people. ¢ A 15,000-square-foot shelter that would provide living quarters and house a variety of service agencies that could provide rehabilitation to the homeless. No location for the shelter was recommended, though sites outside downtown were to be considered. ¢ Case management, including four case managers to counsel and assist those who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. ¢ A program that would use federal HOME dollars to provide transitional housing and allow the city to purchase property for an affordable rental housing project. ¢ A program to work with area businesses and governments to find job opportunities for the homeless. It also would use city funds to provide individuals with transportation, steel-toed boots, uniforms and otherwise ease employment barriers. ¢ A new Community Commission on Homelessness.

"I still have some pretty fundamental questions about that role," Commissioner David Schauner said. "To be rather blunt, my concern is the cost. A total of $4.73 million for a couple of hundred people is a lot of money. We have a lot of demands for limited resources."

Shelter questions

Commissioner Sue Hack also said she wanted more discussion on what could reasonably be funded by the private sector. Commissioners asked the task force several questions about the Topeka Rescue Mission, which is a 270-bed shelter and service center that receives all its $2 million operating budget from private sources.

Task force members said they wanted to tap private funding as much as possible, but said it didn't appear feasible to start a new shelter with the model used in Topeka. The Topeka Rescue Mission is 30 years old and has built up a large network of churches and other faith-based organizations that support it.

"I would be more than happy to survive independently," said Loring Henderson, director of the Lawrence Community Shelter. "But I just don't know where we would find that base."

Answering that question could be an issue for the proposed Community Commission on Homelessness to address, commissioners said. Some task force members, though, said the new commission needed to have broader community representation than the task force did.

"We need to include the business community more, not just by asking them what they can give us, but give them a real seat at the table," said Jim Schneider, a task force member. "There is a lot of goodwill in this community. If the business community is really given a chance to be a part of the process, I think that would be a good step."

The current task force does not include any representative from a Massachusetts Street business. The homeless in Lawrence are most visible downtown.

Several task force members, though, said they believed the report provided the city with the most comprehensive plan yet.

"We have agreed upon some common goals," said Katherine Dinsdale, a task force member. "In the past, a lot of people were running in good directions, but they were running in different directions."


lunacydetector 12 years, 10 months ago

now why do you suppose there aren't any downtown merchants on the task force?

it sounds assinine.

Ragingbear 12 years, 10 months ago

As a formerly homeless individual myself, I feel that although this price tag is alot higher than it should be (I could see a 4 year plan at 1/3rd of that budget), there are some key pieces that should be pointed out.

  1. 99% of "lifestyle" homeless suffer from either substance addiction, mental illness, or both.

  2. The price tag that the city is considering is only $167,000 for the first year. That is about 1/3rd the price of a roundabout.

  3. The remaining money will need to be gathered from federal funds, private sponsors, and charitable organizations.

  4. And as a person who lived on the street for over a year and a half, I can safely say that the number of homeless and sem-homeless (going from friend to friend, or family member to family member) is closer to 300.

There are many issues. The Taskforce on Homelessness is largely a joke though. Took over 2 years to say what most in the service care provider industry already knew. It boils down to cooperation between service care providers, a drug detox center in the city, and mental health providers. Without the latter, I would still be on the street myself. We have just made it worse all these years by constantly sweeping the problem under the rug.

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