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Archive for Wednesday, June 17, 2009

City allows homeless shelter to continue serving extra people

June 17, 2009

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City commissioners concerned about shelter situation

City commissioners tonight expressed concern over the lack of room at the city's lone homeless shelter. Enlarge video

City commissioners said Tuesday that concerns are mounting about the city’s lone homeless shelter.

At the commission’s weekly meeting, leaders of the Lawrence Community Shelter confirmed that they’ve been housing about 40 people more than the legal occupancy the city set for the building at 10th and Kentucky streets.

“I’m disappointed,” Mayor Rob Chestnut told shelter leaders. “The fact is, this is a violation of the law, and now we have a liability here that we are aware of.”

The homeless have been flocking to the shelter in greater numbers since a temporary overflow shelter at the First Christian Church downtown was closed last week. Fire officials for the city said the shelter building likely will need an expanded fire sprinkler system and additional exits in its basement to meet basic life and safety codes to house more people.

But commissioners on Tuesday did not order the shelter to stop serving the extra people. Instead, they directed the shelter and city staff to work quickly to come up with temporary solutions that would ease the city’s liability.

“I understand the concerns, but I question whether it is safer for people to be sleeping in doorways and alleys or to be sleeping indoors in a place that is not up to fire code,” Commissioner Mike Dever said. “It is not like they are going to disappear overnight. We need to acknowledge that.”

Shelter director Loring Henderson said he plans to continue to keep the shelter open to the overflow crowds, but said he’s ready to start addressing the needed safety improvements immediately.

“I would think we would have them all done within a month,” Henderson said.

Commissioners, though, also expressed concern about the shelter’s long-term plans. Henderson told commissioners he now believes it is unlikely the shelter will be ready to move into a new space when the operating permit for the existing shelter expires in April.

When commissioners approved the permit more than two years ago, the goal was for the shelter to be in a new space by the time the permit expired. But shelter leaders have had difficulty in finding a suitable site for a new, expanded shelter.

But shelter leaders said they expect to publicly announce a site they are focusing on within the next month.

“We seem to be close. Closer than we‘ve ever been,” said Don Huggins, president of the shelter’s board of directors.

Huggins also said the shelter has struggled with city regulations during the time period. He noted that it took 54 weeks for the city to approve new zoning regulations that would allow the shelter to locate in an industrially zoned area. Without that approval, the shelter was limited in the locations it could pursue.

Some commissioners said they were understanding of the hurdles the site selection has faced, but said they still wanted to see more progress.

“We’re two years into this,” Commissioner Lance Johnson said. “I have to say that some of this could have been taken care of by now. I sit here a little reticent in extending any permit.”

Commissioners heard from several downtown business owners who urged commissioners to find a permanent home for the shelter outside of the downtown area.

Commissioners said they wanted an update in October on the shelter’s timeline to move.

Comments

skinny 5 years, 6 months ago

I have a quick solution, close it down!

Have the Lawrence Fire Department cite them for City code violations like they would anyone else.

Jan Brocker 5 years, 6 months ago

Letter sent to the City and the City Commission (part 1)

Re: Lawrence Community Shelter UPR

Dear Commissioners:

We were reviewing our notes and previous letters prior to drafting this letter and unfortunately our concerns and issues with the Lawrence Community Shelter (LCS) have not changed since our appearances, letters and statistics to this Commission in 2005, 2006 and 2007. To the contrary; the existing situation has reached a level that calls for immediate drastic changes.

Here we are, four years later, and LCS has, again, not complied with their promises, namely to increase security, keep the property in a clean and tidy manner, reduce loitering, and look for another location. There isn't much, if any, security around the premises, the property is in disarray, a lot of guests are hanging out in the grass, across the street and on private properties, there is a huge problem with drug dealing, the police are still being called numerous times a day, and nobody has been updated as to where the LCS is moving to and when this might happen. It has become obvious that the LCS may be window shopping but they have not made serious attempts to secure a new location despite their requirement to relocate by April 2010 (also see memorandum from Commissioner Chestnut dated 04/24/07).

Tonight the LCS is asking you to increase their occupancy. We believe that this can not be done without revisiting the UPR/SUP process and notifying the neighbors to ask for their opinion and their right to petition against this expansion. Nevertheless, we find it absolutely absurd that an organization who desires to relocate would spend the funds necessary to install a fire suppression system in a building that they will not occupy after April 2010.

LCS continues to be a nuisance to the neighbors and the city. We routinely have to call the police to deal with homeless selling and/or using drugs next to our building. Our office staff has been harassed and one of our staff was assaulted resulting in more police calls and several hours of staff time costing us money. Who can we call to clean up the human feces around our building? Who can we call to have graffiti removed? All of these issues are a direct result of the LCS and their lack or non-existence of compliance with the UPR/SUP, their good neighbor policy, and the Lawrence City Code. LCS is a nuisance house as defined by Lawrence City Code! While any landlord in Lawrence would be in Court by now, LCS has faced absolutely no penalties or consequences for their guests' poor behavior. Through the city administration we were told that if the nuisance house issue was pushed against LCS (which it currently is and has been for a long time according to current City Code), the city administration would just amend this ordinance in a way that would exempt the LCS. We find this very disturbing for obvious reasons!

Jan Brocker 5 years, 6 months ago

Letter sent to the City and the City Commission (part 2)

We would urge this commission to deny the LCS request for increased occupancy as they have shown an absolute inability to effectively handle the occupancy they currently have. Further, increasing their occupancy will only result in the use of funds for improvement of an inadequate space when those funds should be spent on finding and/or remodeling an adequate facility. Should this commission be inclined to grant the additional occupancy, we would urge that the LCS be required to become a "dry" shelter and model their approach after that at Topeka Rescue Mission and the former Lawrence Salvation Army as the LCS has proven that their "wet" shelter model is an utter and absolute failure.

By now it is evident that some downtown businesses closed due to the fact that a lot of families and individuals have started to avoid downtown because of the constant (aggressive) panhandling, the belligerent behavior, and the "hanging out" in large groups of LCS guests in the downtown business district. For a city that prides itself on its downtown area it is not doing anything to tackle the obvious problems.

If you have a problem believing the grave situation that we have been trying to bring to your attention for years now, please pull the police statistics on calls to the area surrounding the LCS (we have done this before and showed these incredible statistics to previous City Commissions). If you are not too concerned about the number of police calls dealing directly and indirectly with the LCS, we would be happy to invite you to our premises, unannounced, to observe the situation for a couple of days. We strongly believe that this may convince you that the situation around the LCS is completely out of control.

Thank you for your time; we urge you to not make any hasty decisions tonight and really investigate the situation yourselves. A picture shows a thousand words!

monkeyhawk 5 years, 6 months ago

The city is not serious about this situation, and does not have what it takes to remedy the problem. They far prefer to cater to the criminal element over the taxpaying citizen and the taxpaying business owners downtown. Will it take a total ghost town before Lawrence becomes bum unfriendly rather than business unfriendly?

Sigmund 5 years, 6 months ago

cheeseburger (Anonymous) says… "This certainly puts the fire chief in an untenable position, but I would expect the department to do what they would do in any other known instances of fire code violation, and that is immediate action in some fashion - up to and including the closing of the location unless and until the deficiencies are corrected."

Anyone who thinks or really believes that any city of Lawrence official (Commissioner, Fire/Police Chiefs, Housing Authority, etc.) is going to act in a principalled manner and actually enforce the laws without a Writ of Mandamus should reevaluate their room temperature IQ downward. But when one intoxicated mental case nut job at the "wet" shelter decides to burn pictures of their family and several people die in the resulting blaze (with endless LJW front page pictures of the conflagration) the taxpayers will be paying lawyer fees and damages for decades because of their negligence and dereliction of duty.

Ceallach 5 years, 6 months ago

Anyone know what the legal occupancy number is for the shelter? It looks very small to me, 40 additional would make it crazy crowded! Problems waiting to happen. How can the city in good conscience allow "40" additional people to be sheltered there for any amount of time?

Sigmund 5 years, 6 months ago

In 2007 the taxpayers of Lawrence paid up to 75% for brand new fire sprinklers of the following downtown businesses:

Tellers, 746 Mass: George Paley Lawrence Masonic Temple, 1001 Mass: Consolidated Properties, aka Doug Compton Buffalo Bob's, 719 Mass: Bob Schumm Goldmakers, Peter Zacharias The Bayleaf, 725 Mass: Anne Yetman The Casbah, 803 Mass, David Millstein Hobbs, 700 Mass, Mark Swanson Silverworks and More, James & Cara Connelly

Now the City has no money to upgrade homeless shelters and sprinklers? OK fine.

Since the greedy downtown landlords/businesses got public money for their private purposes they should be required to help feed, clothe and house the homeless now. Tellers, Buffalo Bobs, The Bayleaf, The Casbah, Goldmakers, and Silverworks can provide food and clothing and the Masonic Temple can help house them safe from fire! If those greedy downtown landlords and businesses now refuse to help when times are tough then Lawrence should take back the benefits they were granted. http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2007/apr...

skinny 5 years, 6 months ago

Sigmund,

I don't think so. If anything the City ought to help close the Homeless shelter and watch the crime rate drop over night. Read the above letter. This is ridiculous. Time for the homeless to move on to another city. We are done messing with them. Game over!

Sigmund 5 years, 6 months ago

skinny (Anonymous) says… "Sigmund, I don't think so. If anything the City ought to help close the Homeless shelter and watch the crime rate drop over night. Read the above letter. This is ridiculous. Time for the homeless to move on to another city. We are done messing with them. Game over!"

Wishful thinking and it ain't ever going to happen. The homeless are here to stay and the community organizers will insure that their population and political power is going to grow. City officials will do nothing unless a lawsuit (or tragic loss of life) forces them to enforce their own laws. As long as we are giving handouts to the greedy downtown landlords/businesses we might as well expect they carry their fair share of the homeless burden.

Sigmund 5 years, 6 months ago

Full disclosure. I have been boycotting the following businesses and their owners since April 2007 and encourage others to do the same. http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2007/apr/10/grants_help_pay_fire_sprinklers/#c331032

Tellers, 746 Mass: George Paley Lawrence Masonic Temple, 1001 Mass: Consolidated Properties, aka Doug Compton Buffalo Bob's, 719 Mass: Bob Schumm Goldmakers, Peter Zacharias The Bayleaf, 725 Mass: Anne Yetman The Casbah, 803 Mass, David Millstein Hobbs, 700 Mass, Mark Swanson Silverworks and More, James & Cara Connelly

Not that Buffalo Bob's was ever worth eating and Tellers has gone downhill for a decade now. OK, not so much a boycott as these are just over priced mediocre businesses I would never patronize anyway. BUT if someone wanted to meet at Tellers I'll suggest somewhere else.

afraid_to_comment 5 years, 6 months ago

I agree with Skinny. Stop the madness and close it down. Lawrence has become the place to go if you don't wan to work. I agree with helping homeless BUT only for a short time while they get on their feet. The taxpayers are working, paying taxes AND can't walk downtown or outside in East Lawrence after dusk. It's got to stop! Let the Topeka and KC police keep their homeless instead of bringing them to the city limits and dropping them off. Yes, the do that - ask any police friend you have.

ridinthefence 5 years, 6 months ago

It is not hard to see the deterioration of downtown Lawrence if you work or live nearby. Why would our city/county leaders promote such abuse by ignoring violations? Laws should be enforced and never swayed because if you do it for one you should do it for all, period.

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