Archive for Sunday, May 9, 2010

The greater share of honor

After varied and successful career, shelter director not ready to walk away from mission

Loring Henderson, right, director of the Lawrence Community Shelter, talks with part-time counselor Matt Stephens before the nightly lottery for beds at the homeless shelter at 10th and Kentucky streets. A proposed move of the shelter to a location next to the Douglas County Jail will face its last hurdles at this week's city commission meeting.

Loring Henderson, right, director of the Lawrence Community Shelter, talks with part-time counselor Matt Stephens before the nightly lottery for beds at the homeless shelter at 10th and Kentucky streets. A proposed move of the shelter to a location next to the Douglas County Jail will face its last hurdles at this week's city commission meeting.

May 9, 2010


In a quiet downtown cafe, Loring Henderson quotes Shakespeare over a cup of iced coffee.

Henderson, you see, once owned a shoe store in the upscale Georgetown district of Washington, D.C. The store was named Crispin, after the patron saint of shoemakers. That spurred a memory in Henderson’s English-major mind of a famous Shakespearean speech by Henry V, a speech to rally his troops for the battle of their lives.

“Those who won’t be here will miss this chance to be blood brothers in this bond,” Henderson paraphrases from the speech.

In his small director’s office at the Lawrence Community Shelter — where it is much less quiet — Henderson does not often quote Shakespeare.

Instead, he quotes life stories. They are the lives of people who populate the city’s homeless shelter and, like Henry V, they are involved in their own battles — less memorialized, certainly, but some perhaps no less noble.

“His father,” Henderson says of a shelter guest, “hit him in the back of the head with a claw hammer when he was 4 years old. He’s terribly complicated, and he’s the most desperate soul because all he wants in life is a job. He just stands by that phone at the front desk and goes through the newspaper every day, pulling out ads about jobs. He gets jobs, but he can’t keep them.”

At 71 years old, this is the band of brothers that Loring Henderson has chosen.

National TV show to recognize Henderson as mentor

Shelter director Loring Henderson is scheduled to receive some national publicity later this month.

Henderson is slated to be the subject of a piece on ABC’s “Good Morning America” that focuses on how Henderson has served as a mentor for GMA co-host George Stephanopoulos.

Stephanopoulos met Henderson in the mid-1980s, when Henderson was a nonprofit administrator in the district and Stephanopoulos was an intern.

Stephanop-oulos ended up going with Henderson to a D.C. soup kitchen where Henderson frequently volunteered. The two have remained friends since.

That’s not surprising, said Eric Alterman, a political author and columnist for The Nation, who along with Stephanopoulos rented a room from Henderson in his D.C. home in the 1980s.

“Loring leaves quite an impression on you,” Alterman said. “The thing is, he just knows who he is. As long as he is doing what he thinks he should be doing, he doesn’t worry about the rest.”

The GMA story is tentatively scheduled to air May 18, Henderson has been told. It comes at a time when the shelter is trying to raise $3 million to move to a new location in eastern Lawrence near the Douglas County Jail.

• • •

Henderson used to be a warrior of a different stripe. A Quaker whose parents let him join the military, Henderson saw the world via the U.S. Navy. Actually, he spent more time listening to the world.

He was assigned to the National Security Agency, where he ended up serving as an officer for the spy-like agency at a listening post designed to keep track of the Soviet Union’s satellite and nuclear missile test programs.

His job was to predict when the Soviets were about to launch a satellite or a test missile, so that the United States could get its various intelligence gathering devices in place.

“It was cool,” Henderson said. “You developed a knack for making that call. It is stupid to think of now. The world is so different. But I couldn’t get over the fact that it was like being in a movie.”

• • •

Henderson long ago traded in his Navy uniform. These days, he most often wears blue jeans and a consignment-store tweed jacket into battle.

That’s the dress uniform to go to City Hall or some other meeting room tucked away in whatever neighborhood is mad at him at that particular moment.

There have been many. For more than four years, Henderson and the shelter’s board have been seeking a new home. The shelter is now in an undersized location at 10th and Kentucky streets.

Everywhere he’s ever pursued, there’s been a fight from neighbors. In every fight, Henderson has marched in like a soldier with a rusty rifle.

“Loring is a saint, but he is not what you would call an astute politician by any means,” said John Tacha, a longtime Lawrence businessman who is serving as a co-chair for the shelter’s committee to raise funds to relocate to a site near the Douglas County Jail in eastern Lawrence.

Henderson’s lack of political weapons is surprising, given that he spent the bulk of his professional career in Washington, D.C. After his six-year stint in the Navy — and after selling his shoe business that grew from one store to four in less than two years — Henderson became a nonprofit administrator.

Over a nearly 20-year career, he gained a reputation as a behind-the-scenes numbers guy for left-leaning, progressive political organizations. At places like Americans for SALT (the old nuclear arms treaty, not the stuff that comes out of the shaker), Business Executives for National Security, and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Henderson oversaw budgets of up to $3 million.

Loring Henderson, director of the Lawrence Community Shelter, takes Julie Manning, center, and Jackie Ferguson on a tour through the facility.

Loring Henderson, director of the Lawrence Community Shelter, takes Julie Manning, center, and Jackie Ferguson on a tour through the facility.

“In D.C., Loring’s reputation was for sanity,” said Eric Alterman, a political author and columnist for The Nation, who received his first D.C. job from Henderson. “He worked in all these places with a lot of people who were intellectuals and really excited about politics. When you had a problem, you went to Loring to get it sorted out because everybody else made you crazy and made the problem worse.”

• • •

That hasn’t always been the way it has worked in Lawrence. There are several neighbors of the shelter who insist that Henderson has failed at making the shelter better, especially when it comes to making it fit in with the surrounding Oread neighborhood. Some former guests of the shelter also have criticized Henderson for allowing too unstructured of an environment to exist at the facility.

“He’s nice enough and very sincere, but he just didn’t get it done,” said Phil Hemphill, a landlord and neighbor of the shelter who said Henderson never has had enough rules to make guests behave outside of the shelter.

Those volleys from neighbors come Henderson’s way often. It is during that rush of questions and concerns that Henderson’s lack of desire to play politics — “It is a skill I’ve never cared to master,” he says — shows through most.

When asked why he lets the homeless fill the shelter’s front porch day in and day out, he once told a crowd it’s because the shelter wasn’t a prison. (He’s since made the porch only for homeless guests with families.)

Community Shelter by the numbers

Here’s a look at some facts and figures about the Lawrence Community Shelter from the last year.

• 629 people signed into the day and night shelters combined.

• 49 people moved into permanent housing.

• 12 other people were approved for Housing Authority waiting list.

• 42 people started permanent jobs.

• 120 people applied for ID, driver’s license and other documentation.

• 46 people applied for disability benefits.

• 43 people entered substance abuse programs.

• 50 additional people went to the emergency room or were hospitalized for physical illness.

• 79 people went to mental health assessments or treatment.

• 51 people were on the shelter’s long-term ban list for violating shelter rules as of May 4.

• 14 families with 24 children stayed at the shelter since June 1.

Source: 2009 Lawrence Community Shelter Annual Report, shelter records.

When asked why the shelter often would return liquor bottles to shelter guests upon their departure, he once said because it established trust with the people he was trying to help. (Henderson since has changed the policy because of the uproar.)

When asked why some people are allowed to sit around and play dominoes during the day, he once said he was just glad they were playing dominoes.

And then there is the Breathalyzer. The shelter got its start in 2003 as the Lawrence shelter that didn’t require nighttime guests to pass a Breathalyzer test. Henderson has been asked about that one a lot. He always answers that the best way to help people is to have some flexibility. (That’s one policy he hasn’t changed.)

In short, not only is Henderson poor at politics, he’s also good at telling people what they don’t want to hear. But he’s fine with that. He said he’s equipped with solid armor.

“I don’t feel pressure from criticism,” Henderson said. “I feel pressure from uncertainty. But I don’t feel pressure from people saying we’re not doing a good job. I know what type of job we’re doing.”

• • •

Henderson has a brother who’s a real been-there, done-everything type of guy. A home in France. A career in Hong Kong. And most of all, time on his hands.

“He calls me almost every day, saying, ‘Come on, come on, let’s go,’” Henderson says.

Go, as in travel the world. See the sites. Leave this job that paid him $35,000, according to the last tax return filed by the shelter. For Henderson — never married, no kids — it would fulfill a plan hatched long ago.

He left Washington, D.C., in 1993 to be closer to his parents, who were at Brandon Woods retirement facility. Although he grew up in Kansas City, he was born here, and he takes pride in pointing out to people that he has five generations of family members buried in Lawrence’s Oak Hill Cemetery.

He came back for family, but, still, the plan was always to leave. In the meantime, though, Henderson decided to “flip his résumé.” Despite no formal training — his degrees from Kansas University are in English and history — he decided he would make a living doing the social service type of work he long had done as a volunteer at a D.C. soup kitchen.

For 11 years, Henderson commuted from Lawrence to Kansas City, where he served as the director of the Redemptorist Social Service Center, a food bank/emergency assistance organization.

In 2004, it finally was time to retire. And finally time to start that plan.

“I was going to go overseas and have myself a little adventure,” Henderson says. “I had it all lined up. I had a job in Bangladesh doing micro-business work. It was going to be fun.”

But he didn’t go. Joined a nonprofit board instead. That board talked him into being a part-time coordinator for a new homeless shelter. And now … well, he sits more than part-time in this director’s office.

A sign that reads “hope” hangs over the office’s tidy desk. A wooden walking stick signed by former interns leans in a corner. On the office’s bookshelf, a grant-writing book sits next to the Bible.

“Quakers,” he says of his faith, “don’t believe much in heaven. The theory is that heaven is possible on earth if everybody acted correctly every moment. If we did that, we could have heaven now.”

So, he tells one brother no, to continue — as Henry V would say — to fight another day with “we few, we happy few, we band of brothers.”


Bassetlover 8 years ago

I think Rosy Elmore said it best a few weeks ago when addressing the City Commission about the shelter issue----Loring is an angel on this earth walking amongst us. Thanks to Chad Lawhorn for showing us the other side to this compassionate man who is trying to make a positive difference.

Meatwad 8 years ago

I believe this one sentence really sums up the problem: Loring states, "I don't feel pressure from people saying we're not doing a good job." Loring seems to have tunnel vision and can't see the big picture in the way he runs his shelter. He puts bandaids on gushing wounds. He enables drug and alcohol addicts. In the big picture, he could have run a homeless shelter that helped actual residents of Lawrence, and Lawrence families who are having a hard time. Instead he runs a shelter where people come from all over the U.S. because their friends have discovered Lawrence and called them or emailed them to tell them, "Come to Lawrence. Here we get 3 meals a day, a place to sleep that doesn't care if you are drunk, and there are plenty of meth hook ups. Lawrence is paradise!" This doesn't seem to bother Loring and that's why he's doing a bad job. You can have a big heart but if you want to welcome homeless drug/alcohol addicts from all over the country without caring what damage you are doing to the surrounding community, that's "not doing a good job".

christy kennedy 8 years ago

Yeah, thanks for the article. I knew Mr. Henderson was an invaluable member of the community but I had no idea about his fascinating background.

JimmyJoeBob 8 years ago

But is he making a difference? There are problems there everyday. Some of the people staying there don't want to change. They want to get there SSI checks and drink there lives away. Something needs to be changed so they will change.

George Lippencott 8 years ago

He employes mostly money from contributors not taxpayers

Liberty275 8 years ago

When homelessness is horrible, less people will be homeless. We need fewer enablers.

Beth Ann Bittlingmayer 8 years ago

It is not necessarily the case for a mentally ill person that "horrible homelessness" will lead to the individual "deciding" to climb out of the cycle.. Mental illness, like addiction, defies rationale thinking.

justsayin 8 years ago

I know VERY FEW people who would be willing to spend their days doing this type of job especially for only $35,000 a year. This man obviously has a good heart to spend his life doing this type of work. Good for him for doing what is right while dealing with all the whiners and barely getting anything in return.

kernal 8 years ago

Yes, I agree he is a good person. No, I do not agree with how the shelter is being run. I've had my say in previous posts about it. It is what it is and until something goes terribly wrong, we will continue enable those who we should not be enabling and let the others languish. I give up.

kernal 8 years ago

And where did these facts and figures come from?

kernal 8 years ago

I see the sidebar. Does not change my stance. Bert Nash, LHA, other exising social services and the LPD had a lot to do with those figures as well.

Deb Engstrom 8 years ago

Thanks, Loring, for all you do. It seems that many people want to complain and put up roadblocks, but not step up to the plate, roll up their sleeves and take any action. Those are the people who are easy to ignore, and should be ignored. Keep up the good work.

kernal 8 years ago

So, Deb, what are you doing for the homeless these days?

motomom 8 years ago

i suggest you contact deb. she does ALOT for the homeless and less fortunate. i am sure she will even have something for you to do. she is an AMAZING so much of herself in the community and she's quiet about it.......time for you, kernal, to roll up your sleeves, my friend

Deja Coffin 8 years ago

While I agree Mr. Henderson sounds like a truly compassionate person with a big heart, I still worry that Lawrence is turning into another Denver with the young homeless population. I try to avoid Mass. street because of the harassment a person receives just while walking around. I don't know what the solution is but I don't think making Lawrence as inviting as this shelter does is the answer. We need shelters that have and enforce strict guidelines. I know some people that are homeless that truly don't want to be homeless and I feel like those are the people who would benefit from a more structured shelter life.

windjammer 8 years ago

It is good to know you have it all figured out One Eye. You sure use alot of big words for your simple solutions.

George Lippencott 8 years ago

Just exactly what do we want the shelter to do.

manage the lives of people with rights just like you and I? help people dictate to people eliminate the homeless "problem" overcome mental health issues we underfund? other - what do you think?

windjammer 8 years ago

It is great to see you have it all figured out OneEye. You sure use alot of big words for your simple solutions. You da man.

George Lippencott 8 years ago


Well, I do not buy the choices you have given me. I think you presume that those who are homeless are such by choice. Some may be. Others are really mentally ill. Some are abusers. Some are in transtition. Mt. Henderson works to address the problem (challenge). We, of course, can decide that we have no responsibility and walk away. Just where are you coming from?

jafs 8 years ago

A really good program would distinguish between the kinds of people and provide services or not accordingly.

George Lippencott 8 years ago


They do. To the level of services and resources available the communioty to include Mr. Henderson tries to integrate and move clients back into the main stream. With som i t is hard.

George Lippencott 8 years ago


Well to a degree it is. Would you prefer to have them crashing in your garage? At least one way to try to address the substance abusers is to attempt to introduce them to alternatives - hard to do if they are in your garage.

Experience suggests that not serving them does not make them go away. They will be here as long as they can find resources to buy their drug of choice - those resources do not come from the shelter but from criminal activity, pan-handlying, and people who employe them at below legal incomes (among other reasons)

jafs 8 years ago

Not enabling them would help more than enabling them does.

It's fairly well established (by ex-addicts) that they had to "hit bottom" before they were ready to change.

I suggest we let them do that.

Of course, anyone who is actively involved in trying to get clean is a different story - I'd be in favor of helping them as much as possible.

jafs 8 years ago

Allowing alcoholics and drug addicts to crash at the shelter seems like enabling, not helping, them, to me.

Deb Engstrom 8 years ago

If you really want to know, send me a personal message and I'll be happy to tell you. We always need more help , so if you're interested I can hook you up.

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