A new city commissioner said he thinks the public may have the wrong idea about downtown, the homeless and what happens once the Lawrence Community Shelter leaves its home at 10th and Kentucky streets.
City Commissioner Hugh Carter said Wednesday that he suspects about 90 percent of the public believes if the community shelter moved to a new location that downtown’s homeless issues largely would be solved.
“That’s not the case,” he said. “I think some issues definitely could be worse for downtown. The ones causing the biggest issues for downtown are the least likely ones to be at the new shelter. The plan going forward seems to leave them with nowhere to go for large portions of the day.”
That’s because plans for any new shelter — a site for which still hasn’t been found yet — do not include a drop-in center. The current shelter does include a drop-in center that allows the homeless a place to go during the day. The new shelter — according to plans previously approved by the City Commission — will be open only during the day to people who have joined the shelter’s jobs program and follow other regulations.
Carter said it is unrealistic to believe that all of the homeless individuals that use the drop-in center will be willing to join the shelter’s programs.
“We need to quantify how large of a number we’re talking about, and then we need to start putting some heads together to figure out what we do at that point,” Carter said.
Shelter director Loring Henderson said Carter brings up a good point.
“My thoughts are that there needs to be a drop-in center somewhere in the city,” Henderson said. “It is a common thing for a community to have a drop-in center in addition to a shelter.”
Carter stopped short of saying he thinks the community needs a drop-in center. He has been a strong proponent of getting the shelter out of downtown, but he said he wants to make sure the city has a plan to deal the homeless who may stay in downtown once the shelter leaves.
“I don’t think most people — even some fairly close to the situation, like downtown merchants — understand what happens next,” Carter said. “I just want to get a conversation going.”
Henderson said he doesn’t have any particular location in mind for a drop-in center, and he said the drop in-center would not have to be run by the Lawrence Community Shelter. But he said there are good reasons to believe that some homeless — he didn’t estimate a number — will stay downtown once the shelter moves. He pointed to both LINK and The Salvation Army’s feeding, the Community Building — which offers a place to shower — the library, the bus transfer station and several social service organizations that are all downtown.
“I think there are people who believe the ones who are causing problems are out-of-towners and that they’ll move one once we no longer offer a drop-in center,” Henderson said. “Most are not from out of town. They have Lawrence connections and are going to stay.”
For the moment, though, the issue is moot because the shelter hasn’t yet found a location for a new shelter. Henderson on Wednesday said the shelter was continuing to tour possible sites. He declined to name any potential locations.
“We’re still looking at buildings, talking to people and working hard to get out of this building,” Henderson said.
Wednesday’s discussion about the homeless shelter came up after city commissioners briefly discussed the item at a Tuesday afternoon goal-setting session. As part of that session, commissioners directed staff members to get an update on the shelter’s search for a new location.
On Wednesday, Mayor Aron Cromwell said he hopes the shelter does not give up on a previously identified site at 3701 Franklin Park Circle, which is just east of Douglas County Jail. But a district court judge dealt that site a setback by ruling against the shelter in a case related to restrictive covenants that are attached to the property.
Cromwell said he hadn’t completely ruled out the possibility of a deal being struck to allow that site — which has already been approved by the City Commission — to move forward.
“I don’t think there is anywhere in town that is as good as the Franklin Park site,” Cromwell said of possible shelter locations. “I think it is several times better than any other site.”