Lawrence Community Shelter leaders are finalizing plans for a new two-story homeless shelter on the site of the former Don’s Steakhouse building, and they now have hopes to construct a second building on the site as well.
Loring Henderson, executive director of the shelter, said the group’s architect intends to submit a site plan and special-use permit application to the city’s planning offices on Monday. Henderson hopes that will put the project on track to win approval from city commissioners in early December.
“We’ve been busy working with our architect, and this really has been the fun part — asking whether we can have this or that,” Henderson said.
A second building at the site, 2176 E. 23rd St., is on the wish list. Henderson said the shelter group would like to build about a 6,000-square-foot building that would be used to house a work program for shelter residents. The agency now operates a small work program out of its downtown shelter at 10th and Kentucky streets.
The program includes a small business that makes and sells dog biscuits. Henderson said other organizations have approached the shelter about doing piecemeal work, but the shelter doesn’t have the space to take on the jobs.
“We feel like the program has lots of potential,” said Henderson, who said the shelter recently hired a new employee to help oversee the program expansion.
The building would require the shelter to purchase about 1 acre of ground north of the Don’s Steakhouse building. That property is owned by the trust overseeing the former Farmland Industries site.
The work center building would be separate from the main shelter building. Plans for the shelter building also are taking shape. Among the details:
• The shelter building would be two stories and would have space for about 100 guests.
• The shelter would have five individual rooms that would be reserved for families with children.
• The facility would include emergency shelter space on the main floor, while “transitional shelter” space would be offered on the second floor. The transitional space will be reserved for individuals who have committed to certain programs designed to get them out of homelessness.
• The overall design would be simple, Henderson said, with the main entrance for residents being on the north side of the building, not visible from 23rd Street. The south side entrance, visible from 23rd Street, would be for families and children and the general public who are visiting the shelter’s offices.
• A dining room would be part of the new building, and Henderson said the shelter would serve three meals per day.
That has created questions about whether LINK, the longtime soup kitchen that is run out of the First Christian Church in downtown, would continue to operate.
Herman Leon, a board member for the organization, said Henderson has approached LINK about joining forces with the shelter, but he said the board has made no decisions.
Henderson said the shelter hasn’t yet developed a cost estimate for the building. He also said the group is still working to finalize plans for a major public fundraising campaign for the project.
“All of this is a big step,” Henderson said. “You have to have something to show people before you can start raising money, and we’ll soon have that.”
Henderson also said the reaction from residents of the shelter has been positive since the site was announced last month. He said there hasn’t been concerned expressed about the shelter being outside of downtown.
“There has been nothing negative,” Henderson said of the reaction from shelter residents. “They like the idea of having beds. They like the idea of having some green space. Once they hear it is on a bus route, there’s not much of a concern.”