Archive for Friday, July 31, 2009

Local homeless shelter responds to new needs

July 31, 2009


Canvas a few people about our local homeless population and you may hear comments like, “The people on our streets choose to be homeless.” Or, “Those scary meth addicts aren’t even from here.” These gross categorizations create a schism between “us” and “them” and obscure an important truth: The homelessness that we witness on the streets of Lawrence is a recent social problem.

On Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission will consider altering the special use permit to allow expansion of the Lawrence Community Shelter (LCS) from 33 to 82 permitted sleeping places, thus ensuring the facility meets all necessary safety/fire codes. The sleeping spaces are not glamorous. They are mat spaces on the floor that will allow LCS to accommodate the increased demand for shelter that is the result of the June 1 closure of the Salvation Army site.

Homelessness affects more than 2.1 million American adults and 1.3 million children each year. Most at risk of becoming homeless are the very poor, those at lower than 50 percent of the poverty line. As many as one of every 12 poor families experience homelessness each year. Personal vulnerabilities increase the odds of living in poverty and subsequent homelessness. Mental illness, alcohol or drug abuse, physical illness or disabilities that make it difficult to work are all major risk factors.

About 25 percent of adults who experience homelessness spent some of their childhood in foster care. Veterans make up about a quarter of the homeless population even though they only comprise 11 percent of the total population. The people helped by our local shelter — 75 percent of them are Douglas County residents — mirror fairly well the national statistics although about half of our local homeless population are comprised of families and include children from every Lawrence school.

Homelessness is shocking in a country as wealthy as ours and it makes sense that many people understand the problem in terms of individual failings or choice rather than an indication of a societal shift over which individuals have little or no control. However, widespread homelessness in its current form dates back only to about 1979, suggesting that larger forces are at work.

The globalization of the last 30 years has seen well-paying industrial or manufacturing jobs replaced with lower-paying service sector jobs that tend to lack benefits such as health care. Consequently, those at the middle or lower end of the income scale have seen their standards of living decrease at the same time that we have reduced the safety net for those falling on hard times either through job loss or disability.

We are in the middle of a recession, experiencing the highest rates of unemployment in decades. While local policy and services cannot address the global changes taking place (our local shelter workers are more akin to field medics providing life-saving triage services), LCS and other support facilities are essential.

LCS hosts a night shelter as well as a drop-in day shelter that offers respite from excessive heat and cold, daily living services (a place to use the phone or store a few items) and support for those who are grappling with mental illness or substance abuse. Case managers help people break the cycle of homelessness with efforts ranging from back to work programs to application support for public housing.

Prior to absorbing the overflow from the Salvation Army, LCS worked with over 50 people a day and provided more than 18,000 services per year. The largest increase they have seen over the last few months is in the number of families seeking shelter and support, 5 percent of whom are under the age of 19.

Chronic homelessness is our new reality. If you recognize it is a challenge not a choice, uphold the shelter’s efforts to help people find homes and jobs and advance measures that will make housing and health care more affordable.

The way we treat our neighbors who lack a home is a reflection of who we are as a community. We can provide the safety nets that are in short supply, once again demonstrating that we are a community that takes care of each other.

— Simran Sethi is the Lacy C. Haynes Visiting Professional Chair in the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications at Kansas University. Mark Holter is an associate professor in the KU School of Social Welfare.


50YearResident 8 years, 1 month ago

Here comes the guilt trip. The way we treat our neighbors who lack a home is a reflection of who we are as a community. We can provide the safety nets that are in short supply, once again demonstrating that we are a community that takes care of each other. ....and all the homeless that will come.

Leslie Swearingen 8 years, 1 month ago

This is an excellent article with someone attempting to put the facts out and encountering stolid prejudice. No matter what people are going to believe what they want. I do not have contempt for anyone.

Lisa Hallberg 8 years, 1 month ago

blue78harley wrote: "For those that do choose to be homeless, I have nothing but contempt. We should, however, support those in our community who have fallen on hard times. I suppose the trick is, to figure out which category someone is in."

So we need to police the shelters and kick out the tiny percentage who "take advantage of the system" by sleeping on pallets on the floor? Wrong.

We need to provide these safeguards and quit worrying about people taking advantage. Doing anything else, doubting the intent or misery of those in need, is the worst kind false generosity. And very un-Christian.

Practicality 8 years, 1 month ago

"Personal vulnerabilities increase the odds of living in poverty and subsequent homelessness. Mental illness, alcohol or drug abuse, physical illness or disabilities that make it difficult to work are all major risk factors."

Choosing to abuse alcohol or drugs is not a personal vulnerability, it is a decision one makes. Albeit, a bad one, but still a choice.

kla4one 8 years, 1 month ago

"The way we treat our neighbors who lack a home is a reflection of who we are as a community. " Absolutely correct. It's not about guilt, it's about our social responsibility to help the poor.

Choosing to be homeless! right. Very few people choose to be homeless. I know it's human nature during a recession to relapse into the me-first, every-man-for-himself point of view, but I hope that most people struggle to be better than that. When so many social services in Lawrence are struggling for funding, it's important for ordinary citizens to step up and support shelters.

Kudos to the many churches in town who have been trying to help with the overflow of the homeless after the Salvation Army closed its shelter.

50YearResident 8 years, 1 month ago

"The people helped by our local shelter — 75 percent of them are Douglas County residents"

Define "residents" 1) Have lived here for 30 days? 2) Have lived here for 90 days? 3) Have lived here for more than 5 years? 4) Got here last night on the back of a freight train?

Practicality 8 years, 1 month ago

Survey question for admittance at homeless shelter:

Survey: What county are you from?

Homeless person: Why, I am from Douglas County!

(Being savvy enough to realize that it is better to say you are from whatever county you are currently in)

If 75% of these people are from Lawrence, why don't they stay with life long friends and family members? Surely they made some connections having grown up here and have resided here for so long.

I doubt the accuracy of the 75% claim as well 50yearresident.

alm77 8 years, 1 month ago

Lisa, thank you for being so refreshing!! I needed that.

gl0ck0wn3r 8 years, 1 month ago

Is this a news story or an editorial? It would be nice to know this information upfront.

geekin_topekan 8 years, 1 month ago

Build it and they will come! Yeehaw.

Practicality, are you chemically dependent or in recovery? If no,STFU. Go tell a diabetic that his non-producing insulin is a matter of personal choice and immoral character.

Flying them off to somewhere else will only bring more to town (Build it and they will come).

Practicality 8 years, 1 month ago

Yes geekin,

Those poor souls who abuse alcohol and drugs were born that way. By all means it sure isn't their fault that they are addicted. It was a genetic imbalance that makes them pick up the crack pipe.

Comparing alcohol and drug abuse to a diabetic is as stupid as your last post. So geekin, why don't you STFU!

bankboy119 8 years, 1 month ago


Where did insulin get mixed into Practicality's correct assessment that people choose to abuse drugs and alcohol? There's a difference for people who have a health problem that need medication.

Practicality 8 years, 1 month ago

Oh and another thing Geeking_Topekan,

I am not chemically dependant or in recovery because I choose not to abuse alcohol or drugs. See how simple it really is?

geekin_topekan 8 years, 1 month ago

Because addiction is a disease just like diabetes and cancer. And just like diabetes and cancer it can be arrested with proper treatment and daily maintanance which is the responsibility of the the addict only.

They dont choose to become addicted but they are responsible for their own recovery and that is where many fall short. Once the choice to regain independence is made than a miraculous recovery can begin, Who is to say when that will begin?

Abused women dont choose to be abused, they simply follow a long and mysterious path that leads to someplace that they never thought that they would ever go. But, here they are. Once this is realized than oit is their responsibility and noone else's to get them out. Some go on for years or die. These parallels are very real and very relevent to current events and to dismiss complex social problems with such simple musings are laughable at best.

I am not from Topeka, its an inside joke. I found myself there once and I was surprised to see that people are actually FROM Topeka! i fugured everyone there got there the way I had; against their will and got stuck. Why am I explaining myself? Carry on.

Kam_Fong_as_Chin_Ho 8 years, 1 month ago

As someone who knows from experience what it was like to live in a homeless shelter, I can assure you that most homeless people are in that condition as a result of personal choice. Many of the homeless people I knew chose to spend money on beer, cigarettes or scratch-off lottery tickets rather than save toward an apartment. There was a very small percentage who had physical and mental issues that would prevent them from working. Unfortunately, the "personal choice" homeless were basically stealing valuable resources from those people who truly needed it. The attitude was "Why work when I can panhandle and drink beer instead?" Anyone who thinks that the homeless are merely down on their luck needs to spend a few weeks in the shelter. Your eyes will be opened and you will think, "Many of these people could better themselves if they really wanted to."

Practicality 8 years, 1 month ago

Thank you for your personal insight during your 'first-hand' account of a homeless shelter Kam.

I do realize that people can have unfortunate circumstances that could result in having to live in a homeless shelter. I am not against helping people who truly are in need, and are attempting to change that circumstance. However, like you pointed out in your post, many people, like myself, start to feel like society is just being used to support a life-style that we do not agree with. If something was done to correct that situation, I imagine more people would be receptive to the homeless shelter quagmire.

mrbig 8 years, 1 month ago

I agree with the first person. Instead of attracting these people--we need to just take them to the edge of town and drop them off. Aside from the few that are mentally challenged, or families that have just come across hard times-- most of these people are just drug addicted/alcoholic freeloaders. I don't understand why the people of Lawrence think that we need to cater to these people.

bearded_gnome 8 years, 1 month ago

Hey LJWorld, this is an opinion piece written presented like its news!

please be a lot more careful next time.
the timing, with tuesday coming, is glaringly obvious.

75% of homeless are from DGCo, BS!

however, let's remember one local homeless hero:

Louie Galloway. he was indeed local and lived homeless for several years, finally got into his own apartment, for a short time until he got himself thrown into jail.

yes, he had family, good family, he could have lived with. but his bad attitude and his own choices kept him on the street.

if you don't know about Louie, put his name up in the ljworld searchbox. lots to read! shining example of the homeless.

remember one night he was sleeping on Mass and his pal came from MO and went at him with a machete.

we also remember how crime is concentrated among this population.

club 2-1-4 is worse than club 8-2-5.

it is an insult that truly local homeless who really are not homeless by choice have to get in line behind drunks and druggies to get a possible bed at Club 2-1-4.

honestone 8 years, 1 month ago

I drive by the current shelter throughout the day and I have always wanted to videotape what I see. Maybe if all of the bleeding hearts really saw the comings and goings at the shelter they may just understand a home owner's fear of a shelter in their neighborhood. No one is against helping the truely needy but very few are interested in the furthering the lifestyle of the chronic homeless. Better help those that want to change their lives and the publics help will come. Keep enabling those that feed off of society and you will lose the whole burrito.

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