Leaders of an effort to build a new homeless shelter in Lawrence are now closer to receiving a key piece of federal funding for the project. But they still haven’t found a new site to house the homeless.
Congressman Dennis Moore’s office confirmed that a request by the Lawrence Community Shelter for $200,000 in federal funding has been approved by the U.S. House of Representatives. Now it awaits approval by the U.S. Senate, where Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback is sponsoring the request.
“It is hard to estimate how important this would be because psychologically it is a huge boost, and of course, financially it is a huge boost,” said Loring Henderson, executive director of the Lawrence Community Shelter.
Henderson has estimated a new shelter could cost up to $3 million. Shelter leaders eventually plan to start a community fundraising campaign, and the $200,000 in federal funding could help get the effort rolling.
Henderson said he’s optimistic the funding will win approval in the Senate, where Brownback is a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee that plays a key role in setting the budget.
“I’m not an expert in this, but I’m told that it is highly unlikely that the funding will be deleted at this point,” Henderson said. “It could be reduced, but I think it is highly unlikely that it will be eliminated.”
Less certain is when Henderson will be able to announce that the shelter has identified a site it wants to move to from its current undersized facility at 10th and Kentucky streets.
In mid-June, shelter leaders said they expected to publicly announce a site within a month. But Henderson said Wednesday that the shelter’s board does not have a pending offer for any property.
“But that’s not to say that it won’t happen soon,” Henderson said. “I hope within the next couple of weeks we have something to say.”
Mayor Rob Chestnut said he’s become active in working with the shelter to find a new site. He said he believes any site will be out of downtown because there doesn’t appear to be property in downtown that is large enough to accommodate a 20,000-square-foot shelter and still be sufficiently far from residences.
In the meantime, the shelter is seeking approval from the city to make several improvements to the existing site at 944 Ky. that will increase the overnight capacity of the building from 31 people to about 82 people.
The shelter wants to add a fire sprinkler and a basement exit in order to accommodate an influx of people needing a space to stay after the Salvation Army closed its 42-bed shelter earlier this summer.
The shelter hopes the city commission approves those building changes and awards it about $50,000 in community development block grant funding that the city controls.
Commissioners are scheduled to discuss the project at their meeting, which begins at 6:35 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, Sixth and Massachusetts streets.