Plans for a city-sanctioned homeless camp in Lawrence were doused by city commissioners Tuesday night.
At their weekly meeting, commissioners unanimously agreed that creating a camp for up to 50 homeless people either in Burcham Park or in a remote area of east Lawrence wasn’t the solution to the city’s shortage of shelter space.
“I feel like we would be taking a step backward,” said City Commissioner Mike Dever.
Instead, commissioners said they wanted to focus the city’s time and resources on finding a new permanent home for the Lawrence Community Shelter, so that it could expand.
Homeless service advocates said they support an expansion of the shelter as well, but said the city needed to take action in the meantime because there are a number of homeless people who have no place where they can legally sleep at night. The city has an ordinance that generally makes it illegal to camp in many public places.
“I do agree that this is not the ideal situation,” said David Tucker, a homeless outreach specialist with Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center, who proposed the plan. “But it is an idea. I have heard very few other ideas from people. Homelessness is an issue that is going to require compassion and a lot of patience.”
The proposal did draw opposition from leaders of both the Pinckney and East Lawrence neighborhood associations, which are adjacent to the two sites proposed for the campground.
“This would be like putting a Band-Aid on a broken leg,” said Steve Braswell, president of the Pinckney Neighborhood Association. “We have to get on board and figure out how to get the Community Shelter improved because this is not the right way to deal with this.”
The leadership of the Lawrence Community Shelter — which turns away about 15 people per night — supported the campsite idea.
“It is just based on practicality,” said Loring Henderson, executive director of the downtown shelter at 10th and Kentucky streets. “There just isn’t a place for people to sleep — and they have to sleep — when the shelter is full.”
Commissioners said they hope to be able to consider a proposal for a new location for an expanded shelter sometime this year. Henderson said his group is working to find a site, but didn’t have any new information to report.