Shelter leader makes case for funding

Services provided would otherwise fall to city, county

The leader of Lawrence’s lone homeless shelter said he’ll lobby hard for a significant increase in funding for its 2013 budget, despite a negative recommendation from a key city advisory board.

“We are in need of the funding because we have all these people, and I just think it is time for the city to help us on a more regular basis,” said Loring Henderson, director of the Lawrence Community Shelter, who said the organization was grateful for previous city funding. “But this is not the shelter’s problem alone.”

As part of its 2013 budget request, the shelter asked for a $64,000 increase in city funding to bring its total to $149,000. But the city’s Social Service Funding Advisory Board recently met and recommended just a $6,000 increase for the shelter. The board’s recommendation will be forwarded to city commissioners in early June, and commissioners will make the final decision on the funding amount when they vote on a 2013 budget later this summer.

Henderson said the shelter is faced with a significant funding shortfall because of larger numbers of people the shelter is serving on a daily basis. Traditionally, the shelter has housed about 70 to 75 people per night. But now the demand is consistently more than 90 people a night, with many families with children seeking services. The shelter now operates an overflow shelter at a local church each night, which has increased the shelter’s staffing expenses.

The shelter is scheduled to move into a new, larger facility near the Douglas County Jail in eastern Lawrence this fall. Henderson said the 125-bed facility will make housing the homeless more efficient but won’t eliminate the need for increased funding.

“This is just a volume problem,” Henderson said. “The supplies, the food, the supervision all come with a cost. There is just this need out there that doesn’t go away.”

Casey Toomay, city budget director, said the advisory board struggled with its recommendations because the requests for funding from social service agencies significantly outnumbered the available dollars in the city’s budget.

“They found it challenging, but they came up with recommendations that they really thought reflected the priorities of the commission,” Toomay said.

Part of the challenge is that the advisory board was told to assume there would be no increase in the total amount of city funding available to distribute to the social service agencies throughout the city. Board members were told they had about $530,000 in property and sales tax funds to distribute and about $315,000 in special liquor tax revenues to award.

Both amounts are basically the same as from a year ago.

Henderson said he understood the advisory board would be reluctant to grant a major increase in funding to the shelter if it meant reductions had to be made to other organizations. Henderson, though, said he is no longer certain the shelter should be competing against other social service agencies for funding.

The city has a portion of its budget where it pays organizations a “vendor payment” to provide a service that the city would have to otherwise provide on its own. Organizations such as the Lawrence Arts Center, Douglas County Legal Aid, and the Lawrence Humane Society fall into that category. The shelter, however, does not.

“I’m beginning to think that is how we ought to be viewed,” Henderson said. “We definitely provide a service to both the city and the county that I think they would have to provide otherwise.”

City commissioners in March approved a special $100,000 appropriation to the shelter to help it boost its finances. At the time, Henderson told commissioners that he would be making a similar request during the 2013 budget process. Henderson in March also asked for $100,000 from Douglas County, but county commissioners have yet to consider that request, Henderson said. He said he hopes county commissioners still will consider the 2012 funding request, and he said he has made a similar request to be included in the county’s 2013 budget.

In total, about two dozen social service organizations requested funding in 2013 from the city. City staff members were still compiling a report showing funding recommendations for all the groups, but Toomay said funding was particularly tight in the city’s Special Alcohol fund, which seeks to provide funding for organizations that provide alcohol abuse treatment or prevention programs. A full list of funding recommendations is expected to be released in the next several days.