Churches that would serve as overnight shelters
Each church would serve as a shelter one week out of every three months.
¢ First Baptist, 1330 Kasold Drive.¢ Morning Star, 998 N. 1771 Road.¢ Grace Evangelical Presbyterian, 3312 Calvin Drive.¢ Heartland Community, 619 Vt.¢ Victory Bible, 1942 Mass.¢ Plymouth Congregational, 925 Vt.¢ First Christian, 1000 Ky.¢ First Southern Baptist, 4300 W. Sixth St.¢ Clinton Parkway Assembly of God, 3200 Clinton Parkway.¢ Corpus Christi Catholic, 6001 Bob Billings Parkway.¢ St. Margaret's Episcopal, 5700 W. Sixth St.¢ BridgePointe Community, 601 W. 29th Terrace.
Soon, a dozen or more churches in Lawrence may have the ability to convert themselves into short-term, overnight homeless shelters.
City commissioners on Tuesday will consider a new set of regulations that would allow churches citywide to use their buildings to house up to four homeless families.
A dozen churches are ready to start serving as shelters as part of new program called Family Promise.
"We're ready to go," said Joe Reitz, a leader of the Lawrence branch of the Family Promise organization. "I want to have this program open before Thanksgiving."
But the program won't get off the ground unless commissioners approve the new set of regulations. Lawrence-Douglas County Planning commissioners - on a 6-3 vote - are recommending approval of the new regulations.
Neighborhood groups have expressed concerns that the regulations could create problems in single-family neighborhoods.
"We're glad that the Planning Commission is requiring neighborhoods to be notified, but we're still not sure how much say the neighborhoods will have," said Gwen Klingenberg, president of the Lawrence Association of Neighborhoods.
The proposed regulations are multifaceted. Here's a look at several points.
¢ Any church would be allowed to use a portion of its building as an overnight homeless shelter. But there are restrictions. The churches could serve only homeless families with children. At no point could there be more than 15 homeless individuals being served. The shelter could be open only from 4 p.m. to 9 a.m. At least two staff members would be on the site at all times. A church could not serve as a homeless shelter for more than 15 nights per quarter of a year. Each church would meet with the neighborhood at least once per year, and create a good-neighbor policy.
¢ The regulations also would create a new category of homeless day centers. The day centers are prohibited from locating in single family neighborhoods. They can locate in areas zoned for intensive apartment development, but must first receive a special-use permit from city commissioners. The centers can locate without the special-use permit on property zoned for industrial, commercial or residential office uses. Neighbors had lobbied that a special-use permit be required for all areas. Like the homeless shelters, the day centers can only serve homeless families with children.
Both the shelters and the day centers are needed for the Family Promise program to move forward, Reitz said. Reitz has 12 churches ready to start serving as a shelter for one week every three months. He said once the regulations are approved, the organization plans to announce a site for a new homeless day center.
Originally, the organization had targeted a site in the Barker Neighborhood, but dropped that plan after opposition arose from neighbors. Reitz said none of the three sites being considered was in a residential area. He declined to provide other details about the sites the organization is considering.
Reitz, a retired professor from the Kansas University School of Business, said he hopes commissioners will move the regulations forward. He said he had asked homeless outreach workers to do a one-day count of how many children are without a home or permanent lodging. For one day in September, the total was 111 children, he said.
"There are so many of these kids who are sleeping in cars or cheap motels or being moved from one family to another," Reitz said. "And the numbers are only going to grow with this economic situation."
Lawrence's Family Promise Program would be part of a national organization. The program requires all participants to undergo a criminal background check, and to abstain from drug or alcohol usage.
Neighbors largely have said they do not object to the Family Promise program, but have expressed concerns that other organizations could use the new regulations to create objectionable programs.