A proposal to open a homeless day center in the Barker neighborhood has been scrapped, but neighborhood groups continue to express concern that other homeless projects will end up in single-family areas.
Joe Reitz, the leader of a new Lawrence faith-based program to provide temporary housing to homeless families, said on Tuesday that his group was no longer considering a house at 1501 R.I. as the possible site of a day center for homeless families and children.
"We're not looking to fight that fight," Reitz said at a meeting of the Community Commission on Homelessness.
The Barker site appeared to be facing a steeper hill as several neighbors had registered strong concerns about the project.
Reitz, a retired leader of the Kansas University School of Business, said his group would continue to look for another site for the day center, but he said it would not seek to locate it in a single-family zoning district.
Reitz said he does want to look at areas zoned for apartments - RM-32 zoning districts - as a possible location for the day center. The center would be part of the national Family Promise program that exclusively serves homeless families with children. Reitz said the day center ideally would be near downtown so that residents could have easy access to the city's public transportation hub.
Residents near the 15th and Rhode Island site said they were pleased with the decision because it would help promote stability in their neighborhood. But other neighborhood leaders from across the community expressed concern that the city is not yet taking enough steps to ensure that single-family areas are protected from new homeless projects.
"A lot of the ideas to protect the neighborhood's interests seem pretty flimsy," said Gwen Klingenberg, president of the Lawrence Association of Neighborhoods.
At Tuesday's meeting of the Community Commission on Homelessness, neighborhood leaders, planners and homeless service advocates debated several issues. They included:
¢ Whether churches and other nonprofit groups should be allowed to use their buildings to operate small overnight homeless shelters. The planning staff has recommended that only churches be allowed to operate the shelters, which have been proposed as part of Reitz's Family Promise program. The Community Commission on Homelessness is recommending that both churches and other charitable institutions be allowed to operate the shelters.
¢ Whether day centers, like the one proposed by Reitz, should be required to receive a special use permit from the City Commission. The planning staff has recommended that a day center be required to receive a special permit from the City Commission, and that the centers only be allowed to locate in non-residential areas or mixed use office areas. But the homeless commission is advocating that a special use permit not be required for nonresidential areas. Instead, the day center would need only administrative approval from city staff.
¢ Whether larger-scale homeless shelters - those housing more than 15 people - should be a certain number of feet away from single-family homes. The Lawrence Association of Neighborhoods has lobbied that homeless shelters be at least 250 feet away from single-family homes. The homeless commission, however, rejected that suggestion after homeless service advocates said such a distance requirement would make it very difficult to find a new location for the Lawrence Community Shelter, which is looking to move from its downtown location.
"If we're required to have a 250 foot buffer distance, it basically would exclude us from the city," said shelter director Loring Henderson, who said he would rather address the buffer issue through fencing, landscaping and other forms of screening.
Ultimately, city commissioners will decide the issue. But first the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission will consider the issues at its Sept. 22 meeting. City commissioners will receive the recommendations from the Planning Commission and the homeless commission and then debate the issue later this fall.