When the Lawrence Community Shelter in late 2012 moved from downtown to a location in far eastern Lawrence, there were some concerns about whether the people in need would follow.
There are no such questions now, outgoing shelter director Loring Henderson said. The shelter has filed a request with Lawrence City Hall to increase the occupancy limit of the shelter to 160 people. The new occupancy limit would be up from 125 currently and would be in place only when the weather is 32 degrees or below.
"Years ago, when I picked the number of 125 for this building, I thought that would be the worst-case scenario," Henderson said. "But on cold nights, it is not the worst-case anymore. We're exceeding it."
Henderson said the shelter has had to turn away upwards of 10 people on cold nights. Henderson said the number of families who are homeless is one factor driving the growth.
"More families is what I'm hearing from around the country, and certainly we're seeing more than we used to," Henderson said.
He said the shelter's 39 beds that currently are devoted to families are full nearly every night, and he said the shelter receives about two calls per day from families inquiring about shelter services.
"It is a sad situation," Henderson said.
In December 2012, the shelter moved from it previous location at 10th and Kentucky streets into a renovated warehouse near the Douglas County Jail on the far eastern edge of Lawrence. The new shelter had 125 beds, which was up from 75 in the old location. In downtown, the shelter also ran an overflow program in partnership with downtown churches, where up to 15 individuals could sleep in a church on cold nights.
But Henderson said it has not been feasible to continue the program with the downtown churches since the shelter is no longer downtown. But Henderson notes that the shelter does have plenty of room for extra beds in its current facility.
The shelter has 25,000 square feet of space, but only 15,000 square feet is currently used as part of the shelter. The remaining 10,000 square feet has been set aside for future training and workplace education space.
A preliminary review has determined the shelter has sufficient bathrooms and lavatories to accommodate an occupancy of 160. But it appears the building has only enough showers to accommodate 144, based on the standards in the city's building code. Henderson is asking city commissioners to grant a waiver to that portion of the code, especially since Henderson estimates occupancy would reach 160 people on only a few nights per year.
The shelter's request will be part of the City Commission's Tuesday evening meeting. But commissioners are not expected to make a decision on the issue at the meeting. Instead, commissioners are expected to ask staff members to prepare a report on the issue and bring it back for discussion at a future meeting.