There’s really no trick to finding something wrong with just about any proposal the Lawrence Community Shelter comes up with to move to a new location.
In fact, it appears that Lawrence city commissioners have found enough problems with the homeless shelter’s latest plan to relocate to a site near the Douglas County Jail and once again are ready to kick this problem on down the road.
Having been ordered by city commissioners to move out of the current site at 10th and Kentucky, supporters of the shelter have investigated dozens of possible sites around the community and come up with dozens of reasons each site won’t work. Mostly it’s a problem of residents and property owners not wanting an agency that provides services to the homeless in their neighborhood.
Shelter officials looked seriously at relocating the facility to a former nursing home near 31st and Kasold and later to the former Don’s Steakhouse on East 23rd Street. Both proposals died primarily because of opposition from neighbors. So they looked into a warehouse that was for sale in the Franklin Business Park near the jail on the east edge of Lawrence.
It was located away from a residential area and would serve the shelter’s needs. It was favorably recommended by the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission. It was on last week’s City Commission agenda but was deferred until tonight after — you guessed it — owners of vacant property in the area raised concerns about convenants on the property and whether the shelter was an appropriate use for the site. They’ve threatened to file a lawsuit to stop the project if it gets City Commission approval.
As noted, above, it’s not hard to find a reason to oppose about any shelter plan. A couple of city commissioners say they are concerned about the shelter’s management plan although the shelter group has made numerous changes in its plan to accommodate commissioners’ concerns. Another commissioner’s concern about the potential lawsuit is legitimate, but if threatening a lawsuit is all it takes for neighbors to block the shelter project, it will be next to impossible to ever get a site approved. Any potential site — including the three sites suggested by those fighting the current proposal — has problems, as well as neighbors to oppose the shelter.
If city commissioners want the Lawrence Community Shelter to find a new location from which to provide services to the homeless, eventually they are going to have to say “yes” to a plan. If they don’t like the management plan, even after the changes that have been made, they need to work with the shelter organizers to come up with a plan that suits them. If they don’t like any of the locations that have been proposed so far, they need to step in and help the shelter find a location that will work.
It would be nice if homelessness simply ceased to exist in Lawrence, but that’s not likely, especially because shelter officials estimate that 70 percent to 80 percent of the people they serve are from Douglas County. It also is easier for city commissioners to act as if homelessness is the shelter’s problem, but it’s not. It’s a community problem, and city officials need to show some leadership to find a community solution instead of just finding reasons to say “no.”