A new nonprofit program that serves homeless families with children won a key victory Tuesday at City Hall, which will allow the program to continue operating.
City Commissioners at their weekly meeting unanimously agreed to back off proposed regulations that would have required churches participating in the Family Promise program to comply with costly regulations.
“I think we’re making all this a little bit too hard,” City Commissioner Mike Amyx said of regulations that would have forced some churches to go through a permitting process and install thousands of dollars worth of fire sprinkler systems to temporarily house homeless families.
Representatives with Family Promise — a private, nonprofit group that uses a series of churches to house up to four homeless families — said the proposed fire code regulations likely would have forced the program to discontinue in Lawrence.
But the change in direction by City Hall could mean major changes for some neighborhoods in the future. At the suggestion of the city’s legal staff, commissioners also backed away from a provision that would have limited churches to creating temporary shelters that only served homeless families with children. City attorneys said that limitation may run afoul of the U.S. Constitution and other federal laws.
Instead, churches should be allowed to serve any type of homeless individuals that they choose, city attorneys said. The new regulations also would not require churches to receive any permits, approvals or other type of special permission from the city to operate as a homeless shelter, as long as the shelter use was temporary in nature and limited in size.
The new regulations would open the possibility of churches serving as temporary overflow shelters for the city’s full-time homeless shelters, although no churches have yet said they plan to do so.
What constitutes a temporary use and how many individuals a church shelter should be allowed to serve haven’t been determined. Commissioners want the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission to discuss that issue and make a recommendation later this spring.
“How we define that is clearly going to be important,” Mayor Mike Dever said.
Mark Bradford, Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical chief, had urged commissioners to require the churches to comply with the city’s fire code and install sprinkler systems. But commissioners said they disagreed with Bradford’s interpretation of the code, and said the sprinklers would not be required.
In other business, commissioners:
• Agreed to submit to congressional leaders a variety of transit, road and stormwater projects for consideration for funding.
• Approved a rezoning at 2141 Maple Lane to allow for a new office building for Kansas Family & Children Foundation Inc.