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Follow City Commission debate on homeless camps


The Lawrence City Commission tonight will consider a proposal to allow the homeless to establish camps in a city park.

The City Commission meeting starts at 6:35 p.m.

Check back after 6:30 to find out how the debate is proceeding.

6:30 p.m. Hi. This is Journal-World reporter Chad Lawhorn. I'll be providing you a live update of the debate surrounding a proposal to build a camp for the homeless either in Burcham Park or in an area in East Lawrence near the old Santa Fe Depot.

There are a couple of items on the agenda before the homeless campsite issue. Check back about 6:45 to see if the debate has begun.

6:45 We still have three items on the regular agenda to discuss before the homeless camping issue comes up. Check back about 7:15.

7:15 We're now just one item away. Commissioners perhaps will begin their discussion in about 5 minutes.

7:32: Commissioners have begun their discussion. Margene Swarts, the city's assistant director of development services, points commissioners to a staff memo and other documents that were included in the city commission's packet.

David Tucker, a homeless outreach specialist for Bert Nash, has proposed this plan. He tells the commission "we have a very real issue in Lawrence that is worsening by the day. Homelessness is on the rise and our shelters don't have enough space to put them. Every night people are turned away and struggle to find a legal place to sleep. I'm a firm believer that having a place to sleep at night can really turn a person's life around."

He goes on. "I do agree that this is not the ideal situation. But it is an idea. I have heard very few other ideas from people. Homelessness is an issue that is going to require compassion and a lot of patience."

Public comment begins. Brad Cook. He's a licensed social worker who is based at the Lawrence Community Shelter. Points to a USA Today article that shows this is a national issue. "This is about social justice."

Said the campsite would not be the best issue. It should only be a temporary issue. Would need wording to say it would end by a certain date. "It can't be a permanent solution." To those who say "you build it and they will come, I say they are already here. What are you going to do about it?" He urges other people to come up with other ideas that are better than the campsite proposal.

7:40 Matthew Faulk, another social worker who works with the homeless. He tells commissioners that the issue of poverty is a broad societal issue. "No one is there absolutely because of their own doing," Faulk said of people who are homeless. He said that the city's camping ordinance, which prohibits camping in many public places, is unfair to the poor. "Instead of a policy that tries to alleviate poverty, I think that is a policy that really punishes the poor." He continues. "No one has a fast, easy solution. This is one of the few solutions being proposed." He continues. "I agree that this is not a long term solution or an ideal solution. If you go on to Lawrence Journal-World and read any article about homelessness, and then read the reader blogs, there is a lot of hate speech there. There is a lot of that attitude in our society." He continues that Lawrence could put itself on the map by trying something really unique and ambitious to alleviate poverty. "I know that we all think Lawrence is very unique and special, and this is an opportunity to further that image." He continues "There are people going through hardships that we can't imagine. None of us really know what it is like to freeze to death."

7:46 Angela Jennings. Would like to come up with a proposal that is a little more respectable than people just "flopping out by the river" Said perhaps a recreational campground for the community would work. Campsite wouldn't just be for homeless people.

7:50 Michael Tanner. Tanner helped build the illegal campsite that was located near the Santa Fe Depot in East Lawrence. He said he does not think a campsite should be temporary. Points to Portland. He said he is building a structure right now. He said he is building a trailer that will have a tag from the state. Said he was working on it last night. He said a couple of police officers came to visit him. He said he was asked to leave the site, and eventually moved from the site, which he said was on Union Pacific railroad property. Moved the structure to the parking lot near the DMV office. He said he was under the impression that the parking lot was public property. Said when he returned to the lot, a crew was preparing to tow his trailer — which he bought for $650 — and his Chevy Suburban. Said that the trailer wasn't towed because he had chained a large log to the trailer. "You can't just cut my chain with bolt cutters. You need hydrolouic bolt cutters to cut my chain." He said the officer ultimately gave him 30 minutes to remove his property from the lot, or else he'll be arrested for criminal trespass. Also was told if he came back he would be arrested for criminal trespass.

Tanner continues. He thinks the police have treated him unfairly. He tells a story about getting a parking ticket on the top floor of the city parking garage. He had been living in his van in that park. "If we had this campsite it wouldn't even be happening to me," he said. "We really need this in this city."

At this point, Mayor Chestnut asks Tanner to focus his comments on the specific proposal. Said would need to follow up on his accusations against the police department, if Tanner chooses to pursue those allegations.

8:04 Tanner continues. He alleges that he is being harassed by the Lawrence Police Department. Chestnut has asked Tanner to focus on the campsite proposal. "You have issues you need to address, but this is not the forum for it," Chestnut said.

Tanner said he supports Tucker's proposal.

8:06 Ted Boyle, president of North Lawrence Improvement Association. He said his group has discussed the proposal and believes "it is a tremendous liability" to the city. Said the city does have to distinguish between two types of people -- people who are temporarily down on their luck because of the economy and the "professional transients" who have chosen to live outside. He said he believe the campsite will attract more of those. "The North Lawrence Improvement Association and the residents of North Lawrence believe this campsite proposal is a bad idea."

8:09 Young homeless woman, who I did not get the name of. She said she is interested in finding a safe place to sleep, not surrounded by men. She said there are times she can't get into the shelter. She said she would like an option .

8:10 Hilda Enoch, longtime advocate for homeless services. "You have been elected to find solutions that do not criminalize the most vulnerable among us." She continues. "They can't simply be harassed and punished for the condition they are in."

8:11 Steve Braswell, president of Pinckney Neighborhood Association. Said that Lawrence Association of Neighborhoods does not support camping in Lawrence city parks. "If we had prosperous people with their RVs and expensive bass boats, I don't think that would be an appropriate use for our parks either." Said the neighborhood association is in favor of enhancing the Lawrence Community Shelter. "I think what we should do is the appropriate thing. This would be like putting a Band-Aid on a broken leg. He continues "We have to get on board and figure out how to get the Community Shelter improved because this is not the right way to deal with this. I don't think there is going to be much community support for this." He continues. He said if he saw homeless people camping in the park "it would make me feel really sad that we can't do any better than this."

8:16 A Pinckney Neighborhood residents who I did not get the name of: She said she doesn't want the city to be judgemental of the homeless. Points out camping already is going on. Said some people don't stay in the shelters because they have a pet. Some have a drink and aren't allowed to go in some shelters.

8:18 Phil Collison, president of East Lawrence Neighborhood Association. Thinks it is a health and human safety issue. "We will watch any proposal very closely to make sure those safety issues are addressed."

8:20 Janette Parker. Urges Commission to treat homeless people as humans. Points to United Nations statements on the rights of people to camp.

8:23 Loring Henderson, executive director of the Lawrence Community Shelter. Said he supports the camp because he doesn't see another good option at the moment. "It is just based on practicality. There just isn't a place for people to go to sleep — and they have to sleep — when the shelter is full. I just think for the present time this a reasonable proposal for the situation we're in." He said that people are camping "up and down" the Kansas River today. He said this proposal would provide more order to what is going on today.

8:30 Commissioner Mike Dever said he is concerned about devoting resources to a temporary program. He wants to focus on finding a permanent home for the Lawrence Community Shelter. Also is not convinced that the homeless camp would be a good temporary solution. "I haven't seen real good outcomes in other cities," Dever said. "I see them shutting down more than I see them popping up. I feel like we would be taking a step backwards."

8:32: Commissioner Aron Cromwell. Says homelessness is "an enormous concern" He is concerned that limited resources would be directed toward a temporary solution. He said he feels an "enormous sense of urgency" to improve the shelter situation in Lawrence. He said he has lots of concerns about the costs of the program. "When we get into this, the costs will really grow and grow.'

8:34 Commissioner Lance Johnson. Echos many of the concerns already raised. Thanks Tucker for putting forward a plan. He does not think it would be a safe situation for people camping there.

8:38 Commissioner Mike Amyx. Wants to find a solution for permanent housing. But if we can't find that solution, we're going to have to consider proposal like the one brought forward tonight.

8:38 Mayor Chestnut. "There are times when there really are no good answers," he said. Agrees that he want to keep the efforts on finding solutions for the shelter. Also wants to focus on providing services to help people redirect their lives. He is concerned about redirecting efforts and losing momentum. He is concerned that having a site will cause the city's homeless numbers to grow. Concerned about other social service agencies, like Health Care Access, becoming overwhelmed. He said there will always continue to be people who don't want to go into case management, and thus there will still be unregulated camp sites in town. "I think the unintended consequences with this are pretty significant." He continues. "We have to continue the dialogue. We have to continue to seek solutions." He believe it will be a major focus this year.

8:42 Action of the commission is to receive the report. Chestnut said there is no consensus on the commission to direct staff to work on the camping proposal. No vote was taken. That ends the discussion.


Chris Ogle 9 years ago

"No one is there absolutely because of their own doing,"

Let me guess... it is the fault of someone else..... and the rest of us are just lucky.

gl0ck0wn3r 9 years ago

"Hilda Enoch, longtime advocate for homeless services. "You have been elected to find solutions that do not criminalize the most vulnerable among us.""

I've got Hilda's address - perhaps we can direct them to her place for help? I'm sure she'd be cool with it.

skinny 9 years ago

Why don't we do what other Cities in Kansas do, Nothing!

Then they will move on.

If you cater to them, they will all come!

Chris Ogle 9 years ago

I have offered (more than my share) panhandlers work for $10.00 per hour. I assume they were homeless, at least that's what they said.
NOT ONE has shown up..... and yes... I was at the location to pick them up..... People I have experience with that asked for money, simply did not want to work for it.... Well that's fine.....live and let live... but don't ask me to support anyone who is too lazy to work.

d_prowess 9 years ago

Would it be possible for someone on the ljworld staff to do an article that really focused on who these people are? Meet them, talk with them, try to offer work and see what happens. It seems like that would be a really interesting read and help to understand these folks better than what is claimed by the average poster.

Practicality 9 years ago

I agree with d_prowess. The LJW should do an article about a variety of the homeless. Try and proove or disproove some of these statements. Find out where these people are from. Are there really as many from Lawrence as people like to say, or are the homeless just smart enough to claim they are from Lawrence because it helps them to receive services? Why are they homeless? What are some of the Pros and Cons of the other cities that have attempted this sort of thin?. These are some of the issues that your readers would like to know. People would read it, I guarantee.

bearded_gnome 9 years ago

well, that proposal is dead in the water. down like a deflated tent...

I'm glad our commish had some sense about this. it would just be wrong to simply turn over a big hunk of park, or some sanctuary for squatters.

I loved the old lady "human sanctuary."

crime infested, drug infested, dangerous people, and she calls this proposed camp a "human sanctuary!"

when they bulldozed the previous camp there by the santa fe depot, they found lots of beer bottles and bottles from liquor, pot and cigarette leavings, and adult magazines.

I had to laugh, Loring Henderson saying that people would only be allowed in the camp if they were working with homeless outreach services! yeah, right. who's enforcing that one?

Haiku_Cuckoo 9 years ago

Think the homeless are good-hearted people who are simply down on their luck? Well, here are some recent Lawrence news items for you:

Charges of second-degree murder were announced Tuesday against two people suspected of beating to death an east Lawrence man. Douglas County Judge Pro Tem Peggy Kittel set bonds at $500,000 each for Jerod E. Buffalohead, 36, and Shanna R. Friday, 37, during their first court appearances. The suspects are accused of killing Jerry Deshazer, 62, in his mobile home at Brookwood Mobile Home Park, 1908 E. 19th St. His body was discovered about noon Saturday after Lawrence police responded to a report of an unresponsive person. McGowan said that Friday had been staying at Deshazer's home. A neighbor told the Journal-World this week that Deshazer often allowed transients to stay with him. –– Lawrence police issued a citation to a 51-year-old transient man who allegedly exposed a part of his body and performed an illegal act on a porch in plain view of a 75-year-old Lawrence woman. The incident occurred between 7:05 a.m. and 7:29 a.m. June 27 at a central Lawrence residence. –– Officers were dispatched Thursday to the 1200 block of Massachusetts Street near the small children's pool in South Park. A 25-year-old transient was arrested without incident for attacking a mother with a 1-year-old and a 4-year-old child. The woman, who had been struck in the face, did not require medical treatment. –– A 51-year-old transient man was arrested Wednesday on a charge of aggravated sexual battery and battery when a Lawrence police officer in the 600 block of Kentucky Street observed two subjects in a physical altercation in the gazebo area of Buford M. Watson Jr. Park. The officer saw the man, who had his pants down around his thighs, restraining a 35-year-old woman. He pushed the woman away when he saw police. –– On the afternoon of Nov. 3 Lawrence police were called to the South Park Recreation area where a transient man and woman were seen lying on the floor of the men's public restroom without their clothes. They were found by a 34-year-old Lawrence man who was in the park with his children. The transients were cited for indecent exposure. –– Lawrence police arrest a transient accused of robbing a downtown coffee shop overnight. –– Lawrence police on Tuesday picked up a 29-year-old Lawrence man who had driven from Franklin County to Lawrence with intent to harm his girlfriend and himself, Sgt. Paul Fellers said. The man, who is transient, drove to the 200 block of Alabama Street where he was picked up.

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