Community Commission on homelessness ( .PDF )
Shirley Martin-Smith, chair of the Community Commission on Homelessness
The days of Lawrence having two homeless shelters - one for those who have been drinking and one for those who have not - need to end.
That's the recommendation from the city's Community Commission on Homelessness, which on Wednesday provided the most detailed set of recommendations yet on how to serve the approximately 400 people in the city who are homeless.
"This vision is not about what The Salvation Army needs or about what the Lawrence Community Shelter needs," Shirley Martin-Smith, chairwoman of the homeless commission said, referring to the two organizations that have historically provided shelter service in the city. "This is about what the community needs."
Leaders of the two shelters said Wednesday they were supportive of the general vision, and Salvation Army leaders said the new vision may cause them to significantly change their plans for a new shelter proposed for eastern Lawrence. The current plans have drawn significant opposition from eastern Lawrence residents.
A new vision
The vision that the homeless commission presented to city commissioners included a plan for one new shelter, and new temporary and transition housing units for people to live in while they look for permanent housing.
City commissioners expressed some support for the latest recommendations.
"In the past, we've used such a shotgun approach on all of this," Mayor Sue Hack said. "We just haven't had the framework in the past. I think past recommendations also have been financially overwhelming to a lot of people. To me, this really wraps it up into something that people can understand."
Martin-Smith said a key part of the plan is recognizing that the system can help only those who want to be helped. Martin-Smith said the plan envisions a new shelter that would allow people who have been drinking to enter the shelter and stay in a separated area, but it would not serve people who are habitually intoxicated and they will not receive treatment for their drinking.
"We think if we truly have the right housing options in this community that we will be able to help those who want to be helped," Martin-Smith said. "Those who don't want to be helped simply will not get services and will have to move on."
More housing units
But Martin-Smith said the key is having the right housing options available in the community. The homeless commission is recommending that an additional 100 temporary housing units be made available to the homeless population and that 35 transitional housing units - which could allow individuals up to two years to find a permanent home - be added.
That would mean that a true emergency shelter could be limited in size to serve 50 people or less. The shelter also should be designed to serve people for only 90 to 120 days, Martin-Smith said. If the shelter frequently has individuals staying longer than that time period, the shelter would need to explain why to the city's Community Commission on Homelessness.
The shelter primarily would be for homeless individuals without children. The temporary housing largely would be for homeless families. A January census of the city's homeless population found families to be the largest percentage of the homeless community.
"We consider that finding a light bulb moment for the community," Martin-Smith said. "I think a lot of people assumed that our work was strictly with the visibly homeless. To create a plan that just talks about the visibly homeless would do this community no justice."
Salvation Army proposal
No location was recommended for a new homeless shelter. The homeless commission recommended that the City Commission become involved in finding a site.
The Salvation Army had proposed a 66-bed shelter near 19th Street and Haskell Avenue that would be targeted to serve homeless families. Lt. Wesley Dalberg, leader of The Salvation Army's Lawrence operations, said his board now was reviewing its options to see whether the plans should be changed to better fit in with the vision being proposed by the homeless commission.
"We still have a piece of ground out there and we still intend to do something with it," Dalberg said.
Dalberg said he supported the idea of one shelter that would be limited in size and scope. He also said he liked the looks of the new vision.
"The reasoning behind it is good," Dalberg said. "I think the plan will help agencies work together."
Funding has been a major hurdle for previous homeless service plans. Martin-Smith, though, said her group is not yet asking for any specific amount of money from the city. Instead, she said the city should review how much money the city currently spends on various homeless-related programs. That would include everything from city funding for various social service agencies that work with the homeless to the amount of money the city spends on jailing homeless residents for violating city laws.
"We feel like there is some money that could be redirected," Martin-Smith said.
City commissioners said they thought such an examination of current spending would be helpful, but said the city shouldn't be the only financial participant.
"Let's be frank about this, the bulk of this pot of money is going to need to come from private support," City Commissioner Rob Chestnut said.
Members of the homeless commission agreed. But several members said the City Commission can play a key role in helping with private fundraising by clearly stating this is the vision the community will follow.
"The word I would use is 'enthusiasm,'" said Katherine Dinsdale, a member of the homeless commission. "I believe we have the vision. Now, all we need is the good will of the community, and the tremendous enthusiasm of the City Commission."
City commissioners agreed to put the recommendations on a future agenda for a formal vote.