At a time when the numbers coming into Lawrence homeless shelters are rising fast, progress is being made on how to house them.
At least that was the message coming from Steve Ozark, volunteer coordinator for the InterFaith Initiative, who coordinated a town hall meeting on homelessness Saturday afternoon.
“I’m very proud and very excited to see what has been done in the last year,” Ozark said.
About 40 people attended the meeting Saturday at Trinity Lutheran Church, 1245 N.H., and listened to organizers of homeless shelters and programs talk about new projects in the works. Those projects will help meet a plan the Lawrence City Commission approved last year to bring more than 200 housing units or shelter slots to Lawrence.
Some of the recent advancements:
• The Lawrence/Douglas County Housing Authority applying for a grant with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to help build 19 units of permanent supportive housing, and the Salvation Army applying for a HUD grant for 15 transitional units for homeless families and individuals.
• Area churches supporting the Family Promise program, which has churches hosting a homeless family and providing them shelter and food. The organization takes four families at a time and will house them for about 10 to 12 weeks.
• As part of the new Five Loaves/Home-Makers program, a renovated three-bedroom home is providing a place for those to stay who are mentally ill and homeless.
• Loring Henderson, director of Lawrence Community Shelter, 214 W. 10th St., said an announcement in the next few months will be made about a site location for a new and expanded shelter.
• The housing authority is hoping to launch a database that would match the homeless in search of temporary housing with landlords willing to loan out rental units.
“So much has happened in the past five years. So many new programs have started up,” Henderson said. “We as a community continue to get a grip on homelessness.”
But still the needs of the homeless are growing.
This fall, even before cold weather brought the traditional rise of homeless people into the shelters, Ozark said demand for slots was increasing.
Every night 13 to 20 people are turned away from the Lawrence Community Shelter, Henderson said. Some of those who don’t make the cut are given blankets and find doorways, niches or cars to sleep in.
“It is difficult,” Henderson said.
The group also discussed camping areas for the homeless. In late October, city crews cleared an extensive homeless camp from city property on the banks of the Kansas River. Two men had been found dead at the site.
Since then, homeless advocates have proposed creating a designated camping area. Camping on city park property is illegal.
“You can’t make it illegal to camp on public property if the shelters are full because basically you are making it illegal to not own property,” said David Tucker, who is the homeless outreach specialist for Bert Nash.