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City Commission candidates disagree on how to serve homeless in downtown Lawrence

March 26, 2013


Lawrence’s homeless shelter is no longer located in downtown Lawrence, but questions about how to deal with panhandlers and the homeless in the central business district remain.

And Lawrence City Commission candidates aren’t united in their answers.

The field of six candidates were divided Tuesday on the idea of whether a drop-in center for the homeless would be appropriate in downtown Lawrence, now that the Lawrence Community Shelter has moved its facility to a site near the Douglas County Jail in eastern Lawrence.

“I don’t think by simply ignoring them that the problem goes away,” candidate Jeremy Farmer told a crowd of about 30 business owners at a Downtown Lawrence Inc. forum on Tuesday morning. “I don’t think by moving them the problem goes away either.”

Farmer and Scott Criqui — both candidates work in the nonprofit, social service industry — said they would be open to the idea of a drop-in center in downtown.

No proposal has been brought forward for a drop-in center, which would provide the homeless basic services and a place to congregate during the day. But Downtown Lawrence Inc. board member Mike Riling said rumors are circulating downtown of such a center, prompting concern from several business owners.

Farmer said he knew he was “going against the crowd” with his answer, but said a drop-in center may be necessary in downtown because the large crowds may always make the area a popular place for panhandlers and the homeless.

“My question is: Would you rather have them on the streets in front of your business or in a facility where we have a chance to get them some help?” said Farmer, the chief executive of the Lawrence food bank Just Food.

Criqui, who is an executive with Lawrence’s Trinity In-Home Care, said any future proposal should include a “good discussion” about its location.

“But I would acknowledge there might need to be one downtown,” Criqui said.

The other four candidates in the field all expressed serious reservations about approving a drop-in center for the downtown.

“Clearly there are some needs there, but downtown is the worst place for that type of facility,” said Rob Chestnut, a chief financial officer for a Topeka publishing company.

City Commissioner Mike Amyx, a downtown barber shop owner and the lone incumbent in the race, said he wouldn’t support any proposal to locate a drop-in center downtown. Leslie Soden, the owner of a Lawrence pet care company, said she didn’t think a center was needed in downtown. Instead she would look to improve the public transportation options to the shelter’s new facility in eastern Lawrence.

Terry Riordan, a Lawrence pediatrician, said allowing a drop-in center in the downtown would go against the city’s important goal of improving the safety of the downtown area.

Commissioners also were asked about how they would attempt to reduce panhandling in the downtown area.

Four candidates — Amyx, Chestnut, Farmer and Riordan — all said increased foot patrols in downtown likely would be part of the solution. But Riordan said the public needs to be better educated to not give money to the panhandlers.

“The play will fold if there is no audience,” Riordan said. “If you continue to feed the panhandlers, they will keep coming back.”

Farmer urged Downtown Lawrence Inc. members to become strong advocates for additional police funding that could be used to create a new downtown precinct for the department.

Soden, though, said she thought the city should focus its efforts on containing the “aggressive panhandlers,” rather than using the issue as a reason to significantly increase the police department’s budget.

“We just had a mill levy increase for police needs,” Soden said. “Hopefully that won’t happen more in the future.”

Criqui said he wasn’t sure what the solution for panhandling should be, but said the city should study how larger cities are handling the issue.

The general election will be April 2, although advance voting is currently under way. Voters can choose up to three candidates to fill three at-large positions on the five-member commission.


Thomas Christie 5 years, 2 months ago

Is Amyx the only incumbent? What about Chestnut?

Steve Jacob 5 years, 2 months ago

Farmer is supported by the pro-business PAC and supports a downtown drop in center. Very odd combination.

MasterShake 5 years, 2 months ago

I do not want a drop-in center over in the Prairie Park area. I was mildly OK with a family-oriented center moving to my area, but I'm 100% against a drop-in center for the transient population.

kernal 5 years, 2 months ago

There's no reason for a drop-in center in the Prairie Park area, so you can rest easy on that concern.

Clark Coan 5 years, 2 months ago

Reportedly, the new shelter is full and that is why people are on the streets in downtown. To further compound the problem, the shelter was apparently touted in articles in the KC Star and Topeka Capital-Journal, so now homeless in those cities are flocking here. Build it and they will come! Personally, I think there should be a residency requirement--someone has to have lived in Lawrence for three years before be accepted at the shelter.

Maddy Griffin 5 years, 2 months ago

How would they be able to prove residency?

jack22 5 years, 2 months ago

How would they prove residency? Really? Well, we could ask them to provide a copy of a recent lease agreement they had for an apartment in Lawrence, a copy of a drivers license with a Lawrence address, a copy of mail or bills in their name that they received at a Lawrence address, copy of pay stubs for a job they have/had in Lawrence, copy of a mortgage agreement for property they own/owned in Lawrence, just to name a few possibilities. If someone really is a Lawrence resident this shouldn't be real difficult to prove and it would go a long way in making sure that the shelter is being used primarily for the benefit of people in our community and not for people from out of town who might take advantage of our generosity.

Deb Engstrom 5 years, 2 months ago

I disagree. We ran a drop-in center for years before the Lawrence Community Shelter opened. It was very well attended and provided some very valuable services.

Bruce Bertsch 5 years, 2 months ago

I get a kick out of folks like QuiviraTrail...If they are homeless and broke, how do they flock here? Short answer is "they" don't. Sorry to say but the source of Lawrence homelessness is Lawrence.

kernal 5 years, 2 months ago

moderationman, you must be new to Lawrence. If you had been around to read the LJW over the years, you'd know that's not correct. They come from all over Kansas and the rest of the nation. The homeless have their own network so they know which are the good towns to check out and which towns they should avoid. Kind of like a homeless travel guide. For awhile, Lawrence was one of the good towns. I don't know what the current rating is since I don't work in downtown Lawrence anymore.

dee66044 5 years, 2 months ago

If downtown is where they already are, then why is it the worst place for a drop in center?

“The play will fold if there is no audience,” Riordan said. “If you continue to feed the panhandlers, they will keep coming back.” So better to just watch them starve? I guess once they are all dead the problem is solved!

msezdsit 5 years, 2 months ago

Then they will complain about the oder and having to pay for cleaning up the mess.

Catalano 5 years, 2 months ago

What about LINK? Would DLI like to see that relocated away from downtown? While I don't think all panhandlers are homeless, I think LINK does feed some homeless people (who may also panhandle), Dr. Riordan.

MarcoPogo 5 years, 2 months ago

Let's make things interesting: From now on, the downtown homeless drop-in center is It's Brothers. Spread the word.

Richard Payton 5 years, 2 months ago

Most Americans' compensation has risen only $59 since 1966, according to a new analysis. The top 10% of earners fared far better. By Aimee Picchi A lot has changed since 1966, when "Star Trek" first aired on TV and Toyota (TM +0.28%) introduced the Corolla. But one thing that hasn't budged much is Americans' inflation-adjusted income, according to a tax analysis by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Cay Johnston. For Americans in the bottom 90%, the "vast majority averaged a mere $59 more in 2011 than in 1966," writes Johnston, who adds that the figure is "jaw-dropping." That means most Americans gained only enough income to buy movie tickets, popcorn and soda for a family of four -- for just one visit to the multiplex per year.

Not all Americans saw their wages stagnate, however. Since 1966, the top 10% of earners saw their incomes jump by $116,071, reaching $254,864 in 2011, Johnston writes. His analysis is based on research by economists Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty. (As I wrote in MSN moneyNOW last month, Berkeley economist Saez recently found that only the top 1% saw average real income growth between 2009 and 2011.)

"That disparity in income growth rates comes as the total federal tax burdens on those at the top have been slashed, compared with 1966, especially for the long-term capital gains that account for about a third of total income at the very top," Johnston points out.

Johnston's analysis provides a sobering long-term look at why so many Americans feel they're working harder than ever to keep their heads above water. With rising costs for everything from food to a college education, a $59 income gain over four decades isn't going to help.

To be sure, some other recent research indicates the rich have gotten socked by higher taxes, with federal tax bills approaching 30-year highs.

But in more bad news for America's struggling middle and lower classes, the very rich don't necessarily have priorities that align with have-nots, according a study from Vanderbilt University researchers.

Today's Daddy Warbucks "are much less willing than others to provide broad educational opportunities, including 'spend(ing) whatever is necessary to ensure that all children have really good public schools they can go to' or 'mak(ing) sure that everyone who wants to go to college can do so,'" according to the researchers, who surveyed 83 Chicago-area residents with an average wealth of $14 million.

The elite also oppose government redistribution of wealth, favor lower estate tax rates and lean toward supporting cuts in social programs such as Social Security to reduce the deficit, the study found.

But the uber-wealthy are also more likely to be politically active, with two-thirds of them contributing to campaigns and giving an average of $4,633 to candidates or organizations in the previous year.

Copyright © 2013 Microsoft. All rights reserved.

Just thought I would share this story.

LadyJ 5 years, 2 months ago

Just wait until the library is finished, then we won't need a drop in shelter (sarcasm intended).

Currahee 5 years, 2 months ago

I've seen homeless people complain about not being able to get free wifi in the library, they've complained about how so much money was being spent on the library but they couldn't get their free internet.

Hadley_says 5 years, 2 months ago

Farmer has more Fritzel donations listed on his campaign finance statements than probably every other candidate combined.

And his primary campaign statement is to "obtain community consensus."

I have not heard how he would address 1) cell phone towers, 2) Varsity House, or 3) Rock Chalk park, and how "community consensus" would occur.

Buyer beware.

irvan moore 5 years, 2 months ago

I think mr. Henderson is gonna start pitching the need for more public money for expansion in the very near future

lawrencechick 5 years, 2 months ago

I'm glad this article was written now, because I would never vote for someone who would support any kind of downtown drop in center.

jhawk1998 5 years, 2 months ago

the downtown needs to clean up its act. homeless sleeping and loitering on the sidewalks is not appealing. Also not seen as a safe place to take children. Look to cities like San Francisco. They have much more homelessness than Lawrence and you aren't bothered on their market streets.

Loretta James 5 years, 2 months ago

they are hardly starving free meals at link and salvation army they have access to a hot meal every day of the week. also the penn house, just food, ballard center all have free bread items such as bread, buns, cookies, donuts and other pastries cupcakes, pies cakes so if they are hungry there is plenty out there to eat if their not to lazy to walk and go get it. one lady said she had never seen any one panhandling on mass she needs to open her eyes. one lady that does it wears dark glasses and may have a cane wanting u to think she is blind but she sees better than i do. the last drop in center had lots of problems why go for more of it.

how long can people stay at the shelter is there a time limit. I know their was a couple guys that had been at SA for 12 and 8 years. I think they should have to work towards a JOB and limit it to 3 or 4 yrs.

after volunteering at penn house a lot of the homeless we seen were not from lawrence but had heard that we take good care of them that is why they came here free meals, free clothes free showers, you name it we give it to them.

Clark Coan 5 years, 2 months ago

There were five people panhandling last night when I was walking downtown. I didn't give them any money, but I gave a buck to the guy playing a mean sax.

I talked with a man today who helps homeless people and in fact has helped four find jobs. He said he has never come across one from Lawrence--they are all from out-of-town. He suspects that 90% of the 125 at the new homeless shelter are from out-of-town. That's why there should be a residency requirement. There's a residency requirement for in-state tuition.

Leslie Swearingen 5 years, 2 months ago

This is a problem that has been part of the human experience since the beginning and will be with us until the end of time. (Which I think will be when our sun goes nova.) You cannot solve a human problem like one on a chalkboard neatly laid out. People, even those who belong to the underclass, are complex and have been subjected to influences that were not of their choosing.

Never, ever become too smug or sure of yourself. Never, ever believe that you are where you are, and have what you have because of your superior moral and mental accomplishments. Our lives are much more subject to the decisions of others than we would feel comfortable thinking about.

The next time you feel so proud because you have a good job just remember that Kansas is a fire at will state.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 2 months ago

This is not a new situation. It was said many times moving the drop in center would not keep the homeless out of downtown...... no way jose'.

This situation is NOT unique to Lawrence,Kansas. Most all cities or large towns have to deal with the results of a real bad economy. Homeless folks can be seen in the KCMO metro area such as downtown,in the plaza and some shopping centers.

They have no place to go and they like to eat....

Perhaps the former Allen Press building would be adequate?

SouthernMan 5 years, 2 months ago

Of the six candidates, one would think Soden is closest to becoming homeless and should think much more seriously about the issue. I mean, her "business experience" is that of owning a pet sitting service. This lady has zero credentials to serve on Commission. Her level of impatience, inability to firmly grasp complex issues and utter lack of polish and maturity should automatically disqualify her from running for local office. Isn't Democracy wonderful?

Richard Heckler 5 years, 2 months ago

No matter what business most all require the same level of knowledge to succeed. A pet sitting service is a money making business no question about it. And the character of a person is obviously well respected for citizens to place their pets in the hands of another person. Absolutely.

Not to mention the substantial amount of trust of that person which allows for a sitter to have access to homes in many cases.

While I spend very little time with Leslie Soden her lack of patience, inability to firmly grasp complex issues and lack of maturity are simply not apparent. Most certainly not. Lack of polish eh?????

Look what "polished" commissioners have been bringing to the taxpayers the last 6-8 years in the way of reckless spending ,handing out tons of corporate welfare and refusing taxpayers the right to weigh in by way of voting on many big dollar matters.

What taxpayers need is less polish and way more practical thinking,fiscal responsibility and respect for taxpayers thus allowing them to vote on matters that have the distinct possibility of draining our pocketbooks and raising our taxes.

circadian369 5 years, 2 months ago

If Jeremy Farmer gets elected I am moving to Overland Park.

grandpaD 5 years, 1 month ago

a simple cure to the homeless issues and numbers is a 20.00 bill and a ride to the county line------- follow the road and don.t look back. problem solved

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 1 month ago

Yea, there must be some browner pastures somewhere they can be sent off to. In your opinion, would cattle cars be suitable transport? (If so, there's plenty of precedent for that sort of thing.)

bearded_gnome 5 years, 1 month ago

City Commission candidates disagree on how to serve homeless in downtown Lawrence

---I'm sorry, but this headline immediately made me think of the twilight zone "to serve mankind" ... that "to serve mankind" referred to the title of a *cookbook by space aliens!

Seth Peterson 5 years, 1 month ago

Soden, though, said she thought the city should focus its efforts on containing the “aggressive panhandlers,” rather than using the issue as a reason to significantly increase the police department’s budget. “We just had a mill levy increase for police needs,” Soden said. “Hopefully that won’t happen more in the future.”

Soden continues to give well thought answers and is very financially conscience, at the very least her statements are the least pandering.

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