As a heat wave settles over the city, the community’s lone homeless shelter will start turning away about 20 people per night after city regulators expressed fire safety concerns about the building.
The executive director of the Lawrence Community Shelter confirmed Tuesday night that the shelter will stop allowing the homeless to sleep in its basement, at 10th and Kentucky streets, after city officials said they believed it was an unsafe situation.
The result will be that about 20 people per night will be turned away beginning tonight, said Loring Henderson, executive director of the shelter.
“We’ll take in families first,” Henderson said. “Some people will earn a space if they have a job and need to be rested for work. After that, the remaining spots will be decided by a lottery.”
The shelter opened up its basement to the homeless earlier this month after a temporary, overflow homeless shelter in the First Christian Church unexpectedly closed. The overflow shelter — opened in response to the closing of The Salvation Army’s shelter — was housing about 40 people per night.
After the overflow shelter closed, Henderson was using the basement of the Lawrence Community Shelter to house those 40 people. Henderson opened up the basement even though it does not have a fire sprinkler system and does not have proper ingress and egress points required by the fire code.
Scott McCullough, the city’s director of planning and development services, confirmed that his staff and the city’s fire code inspectors recently reviewed the site and determined that the city could not allow the sleeping arrangements even on a temporary basis.
“It was just a matter of safety for the occupants and firefighters if there were an event there,” McCullough said. “It just doesn’t provide the ingress and egress needed to be safe.”
Henderson said the city has agreed to let him use the shelter’s day room as a temporary sleeping area. He hopes to win approval to sleep about 20 of the 40 people there. Otherwise, the number of people turned away each night will grow.
Henderson also hopes to get the basement brought up to fire code so it can be used for a sleeping area.
He said a fire sprinkler company already has been on site, and an architect is working on ways to add the ingress and egress. But he expects those improvements will take about three to four weeks to complete.
In the meantime, Henderson said, the homeless will have to do their best to deal with the heat. He said there won’t be capacity limits on the number of people that can use the shelter — which is air conditioned — during the day.
He also said the shelter would continue to serve an evening meal for everybody, and Henderson said people who are turned away won’t be forced to leave the property. He said people would be allowed to remain on the property’s back patio for the night, as long as they do not disturb the surrounding neighborhood.
In other news from City Hall, commissioners at their weekly meeting:
• Sent back to the Planning Commission a plat for a single family home proposed for 427 Country Club Court. Neighbors in the area were concerned about drainage and other issues.
• Gave preliminary approval for the Americana Music Festival to be in South Park from noon to 10 p.m. July 18.
Visit city reporter Chad Lawhorn's Town Talk blog.