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Archive for Wednesday, October 29, 2008

City delays decision on new homeless regulations

October 29, 2008

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New regulations that would allow churches to serve as temporary shelters for homeless families faced criticism Tuesday as being unconstitutional.

City commissioners at their weekly meeting agreed to delay final passage of the much-debated homeless regulations after a local church said the new rules placed unconstitutional limitation on how it could practice its faith.

"The new code language dramatically restricts the religious liberty and the free exercise thereof of all churches in Lawrence," Caleb Stegall, an attorney with Lawrence's Grace Evangelical Presbyterian Church, wrote in a letter to commissioners.

The new regulations, which commissioners gave preliminary approval to earlier this month, allow churches to operate as overnight homeless shelters for homeless families with children as long as they don't do so for more than 15 days per quarter.

Stegall argues in his letter that the regulations are too strict. Churches should be allowed to serve as shelters more than 15 days per quarter, and they should be allowed to serve homeless individuals who are not part of a family as well.

The new regulations also limit a church's ability to serve as a homeless day center, if the church is located in a residentially zoned neighborhood.

"The language places a substantial burden on all religious institutions and their ability to minister to other persons according to the dictates of their conscience and the calling of their particular religious beliefs and convictions," wrote Stegall.

City commissioners on Tuesday stopped short of saying they agreed with Stegall's analysis, but said they wanted the city's legal staff to take another look at the regulations.

"We don't want to put something on the books that creates unintended consequences," City Commissioner Rob Chestnut said.

Depending on how long the city review takes, though, it could stall efforts to start a new homeless services program in the city. The new regulations were created primarily to allow the Family Promise organization to operate in the city. The Family Promise program uses a series of churches and volunteers to provide temporary shelter for homeless families.

Joe Reitz, an organizer of the Lawrence Family Promise program, said he wants to have the program operational by Thanksgiving. He said he's still optimistic that he'll be able to meet that timeline.

But if the city review recommends any significant changes to the regulations, it could take several months to process. Neighborhood groups likely would balk at any changes that loosened the restrictions on how often a church could serve as a homeless shelter, and where homeless day centers could be located.

Toni Wheeler, the city's director of legal services, will lead the review. City Manager David Corliss told commissioners Tuesday that he was recusing himself from the issue because he is a member of Grace Evangelical Presbyterian Church. Corliss made clear he wasn't taking the church's side in the issue, but felt it would be best that he not participate in the review.

Wheeler said she hoped to complete the review in short order, but could not give a specific timeline.

Stegall, who wasn't able to be reached for comment Tuesday evening, wrote that the church is ready to "fully and firmly assert all of its legal prerogatives" in court.

Comments

hawkperchmoocher 5 years, 4 months ago

new daytime clubhouse: 1200 block of Lousiana.

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Larry_The_Moocher 5 years, 5 months ago

Why does this city cater to those who cant pay their bills and then wonder why they have to raise taxes to pay for it.Lets see... free food, free bunks, free medical, free.... (Transportation). If you look downtown, the merchants are trying to provide employment. It is pretty tough to make it when moms with kids avoid downtown shopping to protect their children from panhandlers and vagrents. The answer is pretty simple...

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honestone 5 years, 5 months ago

If churchs can be used as homeless shelters will neighborhoods begin fighting the establishment of churchs in their neighborhoods?? Maybe that is an unintended consequence.

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hawkperchedatriverfront 5 years, 5 months ago

I still want to know what the city commission did about the Good Neighbor Agreement last nite with the Drop In Center.?

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edjayhawk 5 years, 5 months ago

Why worry...they keep dying off. Another one today.

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Danimal 5 years, 5 months ago

I think we should use the homeless to fill the potholes. Two birds, one stone.

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hawkperchedatriverfront 5 years, 5 months ago

If a church has money for lawsuits, then start charging the churches property taxes.Any way, when I read the article at first I thought the churches wanted zoning change for a Church's Fried Chicken.This town is so behind the times. No Church's.

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XD40 5 years, 5 months ago

If the churches are going to act that way, to the devil with them Don't change the regulations a bit. Aren't the homeless all on their way south to over-winter in Florida anyway?

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hawkperchedatriverfront 5 years, 5 months ago

Lawrence has an awful lot of kU staff and family members with not much to do. This "cause" gives them meaning and purpose.It is too bad that many seen at the Drop In Center and Salvation army are perceived as homeless. They hang out, just as the old retirees do at McDonalds on 6th street or Dunkin donuts. The Drop In center is a daytime clubhouse and at night a flop house.What did the city commission decide last night about the Good Neighbor Agreement with the Open Shelter? How come that wasn't reported in the paper?There is no way, that Pee Wee Loring's playhouse is a good neighbor to anything.Just yesterday, the police were at the Salvation Army. What was that all about?

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Danimal 5 years, 5 months ago

Why is Lawrence the only town in Kansas with a homeless problem?

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hawkperchedatriverfront 5 years, 5 months ago

Ragingbear, don't be surprised if yet another lawsuit is on list you mentioned above. Change of zoning by the city without proper notification of owners and in effect, downzoning. Lawsuit could even include neighborhood group board members, LAN, city staff members and city commission .

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Ragingbear 5 years, 5 months ago

Like the bus, the city is attempting once again to bypass laws and moral decency to promote their radical elitist agenda. This is going to backfire badly, and cost the city a ton of money. Ladies and gentleman, I present the new group of lawsuits that consume city funds. This one sits along side the SLT, the 6th & Wak Walmart, and these "malls" that they keep building.

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