Archive for Thursday, June 21, 2007

City group presents new vision for shelters

June 21, 2007


Related document

Community Commission on homelessness ( .PDF )

Shirley Martin-Smith, chair of the Community Commission on Homelessness

Hear Shirley Martin-Smith, chair of the Community Commission on Homelessness, discuss the organization's latest set of recommendations.

City looking at plans to improve homeless shelters

Leaders in the Lawrence community lay out plans to improve housing for the local homeless. Enlarge video

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 support

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.


Lenette Hamm 11 years ago

why bother with another shelter when the current one only aides and abetts those who use it? Someone needs to step up on the city commission and get actual "fixes" into place: Don't keep encouraging homelessness/joblessness in these folk. Set limitations for use of services. Drug and alcohol rehab should be mandated, or you're out.

alm77 11 years ago

"not serve people who are habitually intoxicated and they will not receive treatment for their drinking." It was my understanding that part of the idea for a "wet" shelter in the first place was to keep homeless alcoholics (i.e. "habitually intoxicated") from freezing to death in the winter. If you're only helping those "who want to be helped", you're missing the big picture. Many people aren't mentally healthy enough to "want help". Most people who want help aren't homeless long anyway and can navigate the existing system by asking for the help they want.

Who is on this Community Commission on Homelessness? What experience do they have working with the homeless community?

honestone 11 years ago

I just barely supported the idea of a family shelter at the 19th and Haskell location. Now I will not. Keep the drunks downtown and not in the residential neighborhoods.

Ragingbear 11 years ago

Ok. I was involved heavily with homeless issues in Lawrence. The city commission designed their custom made homeless task force for the sole purpose of making it look like they were addressing issues. However, the commssion has been chastised several times for making homelessness based decisions without even bothering to tell their little project that these were items up for consideration until it was too late. Simon's Law comes to mind.

They are a joke. They meet quarterly for about an hour. The board is made up of figureheads that can't agree on anything. After this group was founded, it took them 2 1/2 years to make a report that addressed what was needed in the Lawrence community in regards to homelessness. The result was that we need local drug rehabilitative services in the way of detox centers. That we need to stop having all the charities fight each other and work together, and that allowing a wet shelter is a bad idea.

Took them 2 1/2 years for that! Our tax dollars at work. I could have told the commission that for free!

Sigmund 11 years ago

My vision for two new shelters involves them being located in Topeka and KC.

Ragingbear 11 years ago

Homelessness is rampant in Lawrence. While there are some that are true transients, and others that are transient transplants (they drifted into Lawrence 5+ years ago and stayed), the majority are not only people that were Lawrence citizens before they became homeless, but are also those that are struggling with a legitimate cause and are trying to get off the streets. Unfortunately, you can expect 1-3 years for those that qualify for disability to finally receive it, allowing them to get housing.

All in all, there are about 30 people that you see, in addition to the normal summer drifters which would come through Lawrence even if we had the toughest anti-homeless laws in the country.What you do not see are the other 220 that are families, disabled, mentally ill, injured or just hit a really bad run of events.

I myself was homeless for over 16 months. My address started "The Salvation Army. 946 New Hampshire" and I spent all but 8 nights in that shelter during that time. I don't drink, I don't do drugs but I have a severe clinical illness that prevents me from acquiring any form of gainful employment. Virtually every day was a battle for me. To get up and set about finding a way off the streets in some way, or by progressing other plans to get off the street by whatever legal means necessary. It still took me 16 months to get what was basically just a roof over my head, and a total of 3 1/2 years to get a disability judgment that caused the judge in the case to comment that I should have been granted it on my first application.

Ragingbear 11 years ago

That being said, here are my suggestions of what is needed to fix the situation:

  1. Stop the coddling. If you come to the shelter drunk the night before, don't come to the shelter for any services the next day. If you do, you will be doing so for AA meetings that will give regular updates to determine if your even trying.

  2. Stop the camping. For too long everyone has looked the other way in regards to homeless camps. Yet I can take you to an area that will show you mini-communities of homeless people that have been there for years. Coolers, crude forms of running water, cooking and sleeping facilities are all there, and make for a degree of comfort that isn't too bad.

  3. Stamp out public intoxication. Yeah, we got beggers. Most of the time they are slobberingly drunk and yet the cops won't do anything about it. I would say that being caught panhandling under the influence should result in you being banned from downtown for X amount of time. Being seen again within that period would be a violation.

  4. Jail, or as the homeless call it "Three squares, medical coverage, a TV and a place to sleep.". To somebody sleeping in an alleyway or a gymnasium floor, jail isn't very bad at all. Before the wet shelter was opened, it was common for heavily intoxicated people to deliberately break the law to get arrested on cold winter nights. It needs to be changed. Charging the homeless money is stupid, they will never be able or willing to pay. I say put them in solitary for 30-60 days with nothing to entertain them in any way. Going stir-crazy like that may change their views on such. A work program where they can work off their debts by working for places like Parks & Recs and other places would be a good idea as well. Would help budget issues all the way around.

  5. Put an end to coddling businesses. I don't mean the Salvation Army, LINK or any other charitable organization's work. I mean people that let the homeless sleep in their backyards, or the churches that allow the homeless to camp out in nooks and crannies of their buildings at night. Usually there is drinking, drugs, violence and prostitution in such places. Likewise, do not allow restaurants to give free food to the homeless that sit out back at closing like hungry dogs. If they want to donate leftover hot food, call one of the shelters. They can put very good use to it.

Ragingbear 11 years ago

  1. Do something about the length of time and amount of work that has to be done to get back off the streets. It's idiotic. Many people just give up because 2 years might as well be 2 million in their eyes.

  2. Have the police become a pain. While they do it every so often, surges in Zero-tolerance are usually short lived. What are the police to do with people that trespass on private property or do drugs in the alleyways? The jails are full, and all the paperwork and court stuff will only cause more debt. I say take all their drugs and drug paraphernalia, report them to the social agencies (which would result in a denial of services for X amount of time). Hold them for about 12 hours and then release them.

  3. There are those among the homeless that are willing to put forth effort to work. They will do temp work and are usually available for little projects like yard work, gutter cleaning, roof re-shingling and the like. Yet neither the SA or the Lawrence Community Shelter offer any type of employment services on any official note. If things were properly set up and screened, then there should be fewer problems than benefits all around.

  4. Cooling/Heating Shelters. Ok. It gets hot enough where you can't be outside for very long without being in a health risk situation. Same thing with cold. But the concept is to provide a place for people to get out of the severe weather. Yet you commonly see TV's, radios, video-games and other non productive activities in such places. If you have a PS2 portable, then why are you at a homeless shelter? I see people actually go out and buy DVD's to run in such things when that money would be better spent on clothing, hygiene and the like.

  5. Offer incentives to area businesses that hire people that came from the streets. If their last address was one of the shelters, or they bring a referral from one of the caseworkers, those businesses are taking a real risk by hiring such people. Things such as free ad-space, special tax breaks, parking passes or other incentives will help facilitate a greater desire for businesses to actually hire somebody off the streets that want to work.

Ragingbear 11 years ago

I have been suggesting a program based on the 10 above points to the city, service care providers, charities, downtown businesses, and other groups for nearly 2 years now. I even went and talked to about 3 dozen people that live at the shelters and in the camps. They agree with most of what I suggest. Too bad the city doesn't really want to address the problem in any fashion whatsoever.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.