It would be nice to believe that moving the Lawrence Community Shelter will bring an end to concerns about the presence of homeless people and panhandlers in the downtown area.
Unfortunately, as two city commissioners pointed out last week, that almost certainly won’t be the case.
Shelter officials deserve support in their ongoing efforts to move the shelter to a new location. However, the more structured job training program they envision at their new facility probably won’t suit a certain segment of the homeless population that uses the current shelter primarily as a place to drop in, take a shower or sleep.
What will those people do? That’s the apt question being asked by Hugh Carter, who recently joined the Lawrence City Commission.
Shelter Director Loring Henderson confirms that the new facility won’t serve all the homeless population that currently uses the downtown shelter. A number of people will continue to be downtown taking advantage of meal sites and other services, he said. For that reason, he thinks the city will continue to need a drop-in center, although not necessarily one run by the Lawrence Community Shelter.
So, even though moving the shelter out of downtown is a good move, Carter is right to draw attention to the fact that not all homeless people will relocate to the new facility.
Another tough issue is the continuing presence of downtown panhandlers. Mayor Aron Cromwell said last week he is disappointed that earlier discussions about this problem haven’t resulted in more action.
Those discussions focused on trying to direct both panhandlers and those who want to help them to social service agencies that provide such help. People sitting on the sidewalks with signs asking for money don’t qualify as aggressive panhandlers but they also don’t contribute to the ambiance of downtown Lawrence. Many passersby want to help, but it’s hard to understand each individual’s situation or whether the money they collect will be put to good use.
City officials have considered posting signs to discourage donations to panhandlers as well as providing ways for people to contribute to social services that help the homeless. For whatever reason, none of those efforts has gotten off the ground.
The city continues to struggle with the best ways to deal with panhandling and services for the homeless. Although some local residents may be holding out hope that both of those problems will be solved by moving the Lawrence Community Shelter, it’s good that city commissioners are taking a more realistic view.