As plans to relocate the community’s homeless shelter to eastern Lawrence march toward a key November hearing, residents near the proposed site are gearing up for a fight.
“We have a petition and so far have raised over 300 signatures,” said Missi Pfeifer, a Lawrence mother who lives several blocks from the proposed shelter site. “We have a large crowd that is just so opposed to this.”
Leaders of the Lawrence Community Shelter are scheduled to appear before the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission on Nov. 16 to seek approval to convert the former Don’s Steakhouse site, 2176 E. 23rd St., into a homeless shelter. City commissioners may be asked to give final approval to the site as early as Dec. 1.
Opposition to the project surfaced from a handful of businesses near the former steakhouse soon after the deal was announced in August. But now the opposition has spread to the neighborhood around Kennedy Elementary School, which is several blocks away from the site.
Pfeifer said residents are concerned by what they see at the current shelter at 10th and Kentucky streets downtown. She believes a shelter won’t fit well near a neighborhood with children because many of the people the shelter serves have problems with either drugs, alcohol or are mentally ill.
“I don’t know a mother who would go downtown and see what hangs around the shelter down there and walk away and leave their child there,” Pfeifer said.
The shelter’s leader said he wants to work to convince neighbors that the shelter can be a good neighbor.
“I want to talk about things like fencing and landscaping and lighting and all of those issues that we can and will do,” said Loring Henderson, director of the shelter. “Many of them don’t know that we have programs to get people out of homelessness, and how much better this building is going to be for that.”
Pfeifer said many in her group — which is called East Lawrence Citizens Against the Relocation of the Lawrence Community Shelter — will want to talk about the shelter’s policy of allowing people who are inebriated to stay at the shelter.
“My biggest thing is I think there is a huge difference between enabling and assistance,” Pfeifer said.
The shelter is seeking to relocate because its current space is too small to serve the growing homeless population, Henderson said. Shelter leaders settled on the Don’s Steakhouse site because it does not have any homes that directly abut the property. It also is near the DCCCA’s alcohol treatment center, and is near a city bus route.
But the shelter’s leaders have not yet secured all the necessary funding to complete the million-dollar-plus project. The group has plans for a fundraising campaign, but has not yet publicly launched the effort.
The shelter also is working through an administrative matter with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. The shelter is seeking to purchase a small piece of property from the adjacent Farmland Industries site that is currently controlled by a bankruptcy trust. The additional property would allow the shelter to build a separate building for a job’s program that it is seeking to expand.
KDHE regulators will have to approve the sale because of environmental issues related to the Farmland property. Previously, KDHE has been reluctant to approve such transfers of property until someone steps forward to clean the entire Farmland site.
Henderson said the shelter believes the Don’s Steakhouse site will work better with the Farmland property, but does not believe a failure to obtain the Farmland piece would kill the entire project.