Lawrence and Douglas County

Lawrence and Douglas county

City lacks adequate shelter for homeless, and ‘camping’ is illegal

Volunteers across Kansas attempted to count the state's homeless population in just one day.

January 28, 2009


At the Jan. 20 Lawrence City Commission meeting, Mayor Mike Dever proclaimed January “Everybody Counts Month” in honor of Wednesday’s statewide count aimed at identifying the number of homeless in the area.

Dever said, in part, that the city is “committed to ensuring that all Kansans have access to appropriate, safe, decent, accessible and affordable housing of their choice.”

Minutes before the mayor’s proclamation — six blocks south of City Hall — a staff worker at Lawrence Community Shelter, 214 W. 10th St., posted names of winners of a randomly drawn lottery.

The prize? A guaranteed meal and spot on the floor of the shelter, which has served Lawrence’s homeless population since 2004. On any given night, there are not nearly enough shelter spaces for the homeless. And there haven’t been for years.

“It’s a very serious situation, and it just keeps going on and on,” said Katherine Dinsdale, co-chair of the Community Commission on Homelessness.

Loring Henderson, executive director of Lawrence Community Shelter, said his agency has no choice but to implement a lottery system. The shelter, with a 31-person capacity, cannot accommodate the 45 to 50 homeless people who seek shelter nightly.

“It’s been going on ever since we opened,” Henderson said.

Another shelter

A few blocks away, at the city’s other shelter, Salvation Army officials won’t turn anyone away when the temperature is below freezing, according to Wes Dalberg, executive director. Ten or so people sleep on mats, while others occupy the shelter’s 42 beds.

The shelter, 946 N.H., has a zero-tolerance policy toward alcohol and drugs. Proof of sobriety is required for entrance.

Dalberg said the shelter sticks to its 42-bed capacity in warmer weather.

“No one really knows what happens to those people (who are turned away),” he said.

A 23-year-old woman named Tasha, who declined to give her last name, said she has stayed at the area shelters on and off for a couple of years. She said the Lawrence Community Shelter actually does not turn people away when the temperature is below freezing. During those times, Tasha said, the crowd in the shelter reminds her of sardines in a can.

In warmer weather, when not selected in the lottery, Tasha has resorted to camping.

“There’s not much else you can do,” she said.

Gerald Zephier, who has been staying at the Lawrence Community Shelter for several years, said he also camps if turned away at the shelters. He said police have ticketed him twice for violating the city’s ban on camping on public property.

Homeless camping

Last October, the city bulldozed a large homeless camp near the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Depot station east of downtown. A week earlier, two men died near the site from drug overdoses.

With not enough room at shelters, the ordinance essentially makes homelessness illegal, said David Tucker, a homeless outreach worker at Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center.

“They are camping, which makes them illegal,” Tucker said.

Lawrence City Prosecutor Jerry Little said his office prosecuted 57 illegal camping cases in 2008, with penalties ranging from fines and community service to jail time.

Tucker had worked with some of the homeless at the site that was bulldozed in October. But Tucker has been unable to find some who normally stayed there.

“If you can’t find them, you’re never going to get them reintegrated,” Tucker said.

The mayor doesn’t think legalizing camping in the city is an answer to homelessness.

“I don’t think it’s safe for citizens who are homeless to sleep outdoors,” Dever said. “I don’t think camping is necessarily a good solution.”

The city asked the Community Commission on Homelessness to study the camping ordinance. Dinsdale said the homeless commission didn’t support allowing camping.

The future

Dever said services should be aimed at moving homeless people into permanent housing.

That’s already happening within the social service community, including grant applications for additional housing through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the recent startup of a local Family Promise program, a church-based initiative that works with homeless families.

Henderson said the Lawrence Community Shelter hopes to move to a larger location by spring 2010.

In the meantime, officials say there are no immediate plans to address overcrowding at shelters.

“I’m sorry that we’re not able to meet their needs,” Dever said. “It saddens me that we don't have more space.”

Dever said the issue was important, but he’s heard little concern about it from the community.

“Nobody has come to me and said, ‘Mike, please do something,’” he said.


Steve Jacob 9 years, 4 months ago

"Henderson said the Lawrence Community Shelter hopes to move to a larger location by spring 2010."Neighborhood Ass. get ready for that fight that one in the future.

Shardwurm 9 years, 4 months ago

If Lawrence lacks the facilities perhaps a few buses and a short drive to KC would resolve a lot of issues.

hipper_than_hip 9 years, 4 months ago

"Why shouldn't we allow a camping area for the homeless? What are the arguments against it?"Because they poop where they camp, and that's not sanitary or healthy for anyone.

WHY 9 years, 4 months ago

I say we use the empty buses to ship the homeless to Topeka. Kill two birds with one stone.

Emily Hampton 9 years, 4 months ago

Again, righthanded, I wonder what would happen to you tomorrow if you got laid off like the rest of the country. I'm sure your superhero skills could never be denied of a job, but some real people in the world just might not be able to compete in a shrinking job market. Why would anyone choose to be homeless in this frigid, and apparently heartless place? Hey, Mike, "Please do something!"

scottdavene 9 years, 4 months ago

This really upsets me. It is the same wherever you go. What is a homeless person supposed to do if they can’t even camp out? It is already miserable to be homeless—it shouldn’t be illegal too. I have experienced the misery of homelessness at several points in my life and, although there is a certain sense of freedom to it, it is a dangerous and miserable lifestyle that is hard to rise out of. Contrary to popular belief, most homeless did not become so out of choice and not because they are lazy, stupid, or immoral. Many homeless people are victims of abuse in the form of neglect and abandonment by their parents or other caregivers. I invite you to my blog devoted to raising awareness on homelessness: There you will find more information and pictures I have taken of homeless people. I always give them a dollar or two for the privilege of photographing them. I am often surprised by their cheerfulness and sense of pride. Often, they will show themselves to have some kind of talent. There is a fine line between genius and insanity.

leekris 9 years, 4 months ago

Someone better look at the 9th circuit court ruling on a case in LA. The city was sued after they cited people for camping when there wasn't adequate shelter space available.

KansasGirl82 9 years, 4 months ago

What would you all do if we were back in the old days where you had to dig a place to go potty? You all would be screwed! I think the homeless should be able to have their camp. They arent in your frickin backyard are they?

KansasGirl82 9 years, 4 months ago

Oh, and animals potty everywhere outside too, that isnt sanitary either? Is it? Or do you go around with a shovel and plastic bag picking up after them?

twinetowngirl 9 years, 4 months ago

“Henderson said the Lawrence Community Shelter hopes to move to a larger location by spring 2010.”Better make it sooner than later. With the economy the way it is and unemployment on the rise Lawrence may well need double what they have now. righthanded (Anonymous) says… They are homeless because that is what they choose.get a job! Get off your high horse...Not all choose to be homeless, in fact many do not. I pity you and your "holier than thou" attitude.

Liberty_First 9 years, 4 months ago

Has anyone considered the moral hazard that expanding housing for the homeless would create? Many homeless are DRIFTERS! Lawrence attracts these individuals because it already has ample housing provisions in place and is a fairly friendly environment. Homeless accomodations need to be temporary and minimal, ie a warm place to sleep on the floor and enough to eat to avoid exacerbating the problem.

hotdog 9 years, 4 months ago

Oh what a problem. Well, I guess they can head on down the road to someplace else.

Chris Ogle 9 years, 4 months ago

What is the difference between a homeowner and homeless???Usually, about one paycheck

OldEnuf2BYurDad 9 years, 4 months ago

"Everybody Counts" month implies that not everybody counts for 11 months of the year.

kmat 9 years, 4 months ago

I will post again to remind all your so called Christians what you are supposed to practice. Don't call yourself a Christian if you're bashing on the homeless. Remember, Jesus was homeless too.“If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” John 3:17-18“I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger, and you took me into your home. Matthew 25:35”“There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.” Deuteronomy 15:11“He who gives to the poor will lack nothing, but he who closes his eyes to them receives many curses.” Proverbs 28:27“When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God.” Leviticus 23:22“If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother.” Deuteronomy 15:7”

1029 9 years, 4 months ago

When the city removed the homeless camps from under the bridge and along the river in 2003, it was because of multiple reports of hikers/walkers having been threatened at knifepoint. Multiple people reported having been confronted on that trail between Constant and Burcham parks by homeless persons who told them they were on their turf. That whole wooded area along the river was littered with extraordinary amounts of garbage and piles of molding clothes.

1029 9 years, 4 months ago

Also, this wasn't responsible "camping". There were indications of fires having been out of control (burn marks up the sides of trees) and lots of broken glass.

KansasGirl82 9 years, 4 months ago

For your info, I did have a pair camping out in my backyard and didnt even know it. They had been there for a few months and had finally moved. They didnt hurt me or anything owned.

KansasGirl82 9 years, 4 months ago

It was long ago, and it is larger than 10 acres

Meatwad 9 years, 4 months ago

Lawrence needs to stop attracting homeless people. Many of these aren't Lawrence people who are down on their luck. Many of them are people who have come here because they heard (some from their homeless friends calling them on cell phones) that Lawrence provides housing, 3 meals and easy drug hook ups.Homeless people who are substance abusers should not be provided for and then set loose upon the streets of Lawrence all day and night. They need help in the form of a treatment center. We are providing a party for them, not help, and it needs to stop. If Loring's shelter would implement a zero tolerance policy like the Salvation Army does, people would stop telling their friends to come to Lawrence, and those who came here to take advantage of Loring would either leave, or decide to get help.

Meatwad 9 years, 4 months ago

There is a reason that people get sick in refugee camps. They are unsanitary. Yet, KansasGirl82 thinks it's ok to let people camp and defecate on her land.

KansasGirl82 9 years, 4 months ago

They didnt camp in my backyard, I just said that because you all are so mean to them and dont even really know any of them. They all arent bad. And I do agree about the ones who have a drug and drinking problem. They do contribute to bringing more of their friends to lawrence because of the party scene. I honestly would not like for someone to poop in my backyard unless it is in a can.

Sigmund 9 years, 4 months ago

kmat (Anonymous) says… "I will post again to remind all your so called Christians what you are supposed to practice. Don't call yourself a Christian if you're bashing on the homeless."Where is the quote saying, "Verily I say to you, take the property of others and give it to those who will not help themselves." Where is the quote that says, "Increase taxes on others and give it to those who do not work."The quotes of Jesus Christ you provided calls for individual responsibility of individual Christians to act themselves as a part of their faith, not to push that responsibility by force of government and politics on to others who may or may not be Christians.This Marxist deconstruction of the gospel, often by non-believers, to push a social agenda using religion doesn't pass any serious scrutiny. If you want to follow Christ, then do so and do the giving yourself. If you are not a follower then don't try and pervert the message. Are you willing to impose all Christian believes upon society or just those that fit your agenda?

kmat 9 years, 4 months ago

Sigmund - Boy, you are snippy. Attack me for posting something to remind others how they should act. I am posting this because most of these posters will go on and on about their Christian beliefs, but yet belittle anything to do with the homeless and those in need. I am only pointing out how ignorant so many posters are.Most of you that say you are Christians don't really do much of anything to help your fellow man. It kills me how so many can be so rabid about abortion and gay marriage, yet turn right around say to ship the homeless out of town on busses.I am no longer a Christian, although I was brought up in a very religious household and unlike so many Christians, I have read the bible many times. BUT, I do more community service and give a lot to charity, unlike so many so-called Christians. Way to go attacking someone for pointing out the hypocracy on here. Jeeeesh!

kmat 9 years, 4 months ago

justfornow - go back to many, many articles and read the posts. So many bible beaters judge instead of helping. It's all about abortion and gays.I don't have to prove anything to you - you are well known on here for being a right wing jerk.Let's see. If we are such a Christian nation, why aren't we helping the homeless? What do you do to help the homeless? Personally, I give to the Salvation Army frequently. I support the other shelter by buying dog treats that they make to earn money. I adopt multiple needy families each xmas. What do you do? I work with the United Way every year in their fundraising drive. I collect coats for the homeless each fall. I'm known for buying food for homeless people and giving it out. Once again, what do you do?I see lots of people needing help in this country and so many so called Christians have no problem passing them by each and every day. why don't you give us some fine examples of Christians on this message board that in the last three months has spent a considerable amount of time or money helping the homeless???What do you do?

kmat 9 years, 4 months ago

try reading this justfornow. Sorry, don't have video footage of hypocrit christians to link you to at the moment. The Christian paradox: How a faithful nation gets Jesus wrong

honestone 9 years, 4 months ago

Free Camping Spots in Lawrence...Free Meals Too.3001 Oxford Road, 1350 Westbrooke, 1124 Oak Tree Dr., 6 East 6th Street, 11 East 11th, 734 Vermont St.Come one..come all. Bring your friends!

Sigmund 9 years, 4 months ago

kmat (Anonymous) says… "Sigmund - Boy, you are snippy. Attack me for posting something to remind others how they should act. I am posting this because most of these posters will go on and on about their Christian beliefs, but yet belittle anything to do with the homeless and those in need. I am only pointing out how ignorant so many posters are."Boy are you preachy and hypocritical. Asking others to follow beliefs you don't have and completely misunderstand or purposefully mischaracterize. Since you don't believe let the Christians decide for themselves what Jesus words mean.

Sigmund 9 years, 4 months ago

kmat (Anonymous) says…"… The Christian paradox:How a faithful nation gets Jesus wrong"I always read Harpers and trust it as a great source for scholarly examination of Christian theological doctrine, not. Seriously, such nonsense posted by a non-Christian is unlikely persuade believers or non-believers, so quit wasting your time as you are annoying both sides and aren't half as clever as you think.

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