If Loring Henderson has his way, the city’s homeless shelter will move out of downtown Lawrence and into a new facility in eastern Lawrence in just one year’s time.
The Lawrence Community Shelter director’s goal may be an overly ambitious one, as a lot has to happen before then, including gaining approval from the city, tearing down one building, constructing a new one and raising millions of dollars for the project.
Henderson was optimistic that it all might happen that quickly, though, after officially announcing on Wednesday that the shelter has entered into a contract to purchase the former Don’s Steakhouse building at 2176 E. 23rd St.
The announcement, which came during a news conference, confirmed reports that had surfaced Monday indicating the shelter was working on a deal to purchase the building for a new shelter site.
Henderson said the former steakhouse building would be razed and a new building erected in its place, with a possible price tag of up to $3 million, though he was hopeful the project would cost less.
“The purchase of new property has been long overdue to Lawrence,” Henderson said in a news release. “We have spent several years working with residents, city officials and business owners to come to a solution for relocating the shelter.”
The shelter has been looking for a new permanent location for two years. The current shelter, at 10th and Kentucky streets, lacks space to house the city’s homeless population. It has been turning people away after The Salvation Army closed its 42-bed homeless shelter at 10th and New Hampshire streets earlier this summer.
On Tuesday, Lawrence city commissioners agreed to increase the overnight occupancy limit at the current shelter to 76 people, up from 31, from October through March. From April through September, the overnight occupancy will be capped at 53 people, while the shelter pursues a new permanent facility.
Shelter leaders said they entered into an agreement on July 31 with the owners of the steakhouse property. While the new site has been met with opposition from at least one neighboring business, Henderson said all of the 60 sites that shelter leaders have looked at were vulnerable to resistance and that this was as good as it was going to get.
“(The site) is well buffered from residential areas, but remains close to many current services that the homeless often need,” said Don Huggins, president of the shelter’s board of directors.
Though sketchy, the plan is to build a shelter that can house 100 people comfortably, Henderson said. The building will also increase space for the shelter’s programs and add a medical clinic that will be staffed by students and instructors from Baker University.
Henderson said now that the shelter had identified a new site, it would immediately begin working to pass inspections, to design the building, and to prepare a fundraising campaign for the project.
“We are confident that this location will benefit the community,” Henderson said.