New ideas, not new money, will fuel a plan to provide services to the homeless, Lawrence social service leaders were told Monday.
Shirley Martin-Smith, chairwoman of the city's Community Commission on Homelessness, told a crowd of about 50 social service leaders Monday afternoon that the amount of city funding they receive may change in future years as the City Commission looks for ways to use existing funds to provide services to the homeless.
"We're not talking about any new money right now," Martin-Smith told the crowd. "That is the message from the City Commission. We want to see what we can do with the money that we have."
Martin-Smith said city commissioners are expected to look at how much money they spend on homeless services now and determine whether it could be spent more efficiently as part of a coordinated plan.
That means social service agencies that rely heavily on city funding may want to keep an eye on the process to see how it may affect their future budgets. Chip Blaser, executive director of the Douglas County Community Foundation, said he wasn't sure whether local social service agencies had understood yet that a major funding shift could be on the horizon.
"I do think it is important to note that homelessness is a major issue, but it is just one of several issues that social service agencies are addressing on a daily basis," Blaser said.
City leaders also want to see how much the private sector and religious community can step up to help solve the problem. Martin-Smith gave the group details of a plan that city commissioners approved in June that would encourage landlords and even homeowners to provide housing for people in need.
Martin-Smith said private sector landlords, for example, could agree to donate vacant apartment space to be used for a short period of time as temporary housing. Individuals with a spare room also could agree to allow a homeless individual or family to stay with them for a time period while more permanent housing is found.
But to get that part of the plan started, Martin-Smith said an existing social service agency needs to agree to serve as a "clearinghouse" for the program. That would involve serving as a point of contact for individuals who want to donate housing or other services to the homeless. The agency would maintain a database that would be available to all the homeless service providers.
Martin-Smith is asking all social service agencies interested in serving as the clearinghouse agency to attend a meeting next month to discuss the issue further. The meeting is set for 3 p.m. Oct. 1 at Plymouth Congregational Church, 925 Vt.
Martin-Smith said she wants the Community Commission on Homelessness to have some firm recommendations in place for the City Commission to consider by April.