Members of the homeless community had an opportunity to tell their stories to about 60 people at Lawrence Public Library on Tuesday night.
Stacy Reffner, along with her three children, spoke at a forum at the library, 707 Vt., about the struggles with homelessness her family has faced during the last 10 years.
Reffner said health problems prevented her from keeping a steady job, and various other factors allowed her family to fall through the social service cracks.
“I keep promising (my children) that this is the last time” they’ll be homeless, Reffner said. “They’re not quite sure whether to believe that.”
The forum, sponsored by the Lawrence Coalition on Homeless Concerns, also featured several members of community organizations working to deal with homeless issues in Lawrence, such as the Salvation Army, the Lawrence Community Shelter and Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center.
Event organizer Christina Holt said she hoped a better understanding of the issues the homeless face would open up a “community dialogue” about solutions. Holt said overcrowding at the two area shelters has forced some homeless people to sleep in shelter parking lots.
“It’s unconscionable,” Holt said.
Loring Henderson, director of the Lawrence Community Shelter, said his shelter has room for only 31 people per night, and he estimated about 15 homeless people are turned away every night after it reaches capacity.
Henderson said recent high-profile incidents involving the homeless community have raised awareness of an issue that is not new in the area.
In October, the city cleared out an east Lawrence campsite used by homeless people after two men were found dead there. A third was found dead under the Kansas River bridge within a week of the first deaths.
“Lawrence has a homeless problem,” he said.
Sherman Tolbert, who has been living at the Salvation Army’s shelter for the past year, described how the various community agencies had helped him overcome his substance abuse issues when he was released from the county jail.
Those services, Tanner said, need to be strengthened to make a difference in the lives of the area homeless.
“We need the community,” he said.