It’s always nice to see a plan come together.
That seems to be the case with Douglas County’s plan to purchase land for a consolidated public works operation and, at the same time, open a door that may allow plans to move forward for a new facility to serve the local homeless population.
After months of searching for a new location, officials with the Lawrence Community Shelter decided to pursue a plan to purchase a vacant warehouse in a complex east of the Douglas County Jail. Although the Lawrence City Commission approved the location, shelter officials still faced a problem with covenants on the property that some neighboring landowners contended would prohibit the use of the property for a homeless shelter and workshop.
Enter Douglas County officials. Although they had no firm timeline for consolidating public works operations, when the time comes, they would need some land. A location near the county jail made some sense. On Wednesday, commissioners approved the purchase of 34 acres east of the jail.
Not entirely coincidentally, that 34 acres is in the same complex as the proposed homeless shelter site. The county’s purchase will make it the majority landowner in the complex and, therefore, the majority controller of the covenants. The county can ask members of the board of trustees that oversees the covenants to resign and appoint new members to the board who will be supportive of the Lawrence Community Shelter project.
The move clears the way for shelter officials to reopen negotiations to buy the warehouse and move their operation out of downtown. The new site may not be perfect, but it is away from downtown and most residential developments, and shelter officials say it will meet their needs.
The Lawrence Community Shelter has ambitious plans to help homeless people put their lives together and become productive members of society. However, the new facility won’t serve as a drop-in center, which means it won’t serve everyone. The continuing goal has been to move the shelter out of downtown, but moving the shelter won’t move all the homeless out of downtown, especially when that’s where meals and other services are provided.
One hurdle may have been cleared for those who want to help the community’s homeless population, but others remain.
The good news is that while other groups and individuals were standing by, county officials took a creative step to try to clear the way for the Lawrence Community Shelter to move to another location. The community should be grateful for the county’s efforts to work toward a solution for this difficult issue.