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Homeless shelter, nearing capacity, gets more bus passes; city rejects tennis court lights


Excuse me while I put away my cot here at Lawrence City Hall. City commissioners met from about 3:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. on Tuesday. And with several big topics — the recreation center and the budget — there were a few items of note that my deadline didn’t give me time to write about. So, let’s fix that:

• The Lawrence Community Shelter will get more bus passes to provide to residents of the shelter. There was much discussion at Tuesday’s meeting about simply making the bus stop at the homeless shelter a free stop, meaning people entering the bus at that location wouldn’t have to pay the $1 fare.

Transit staff members recommended against that option. They were concerned about the precedent it might set. Commissioners instead decided to give the shelter 50 bus passes a day. At $1 per pass, the passes have a market value of a little more than $15,000 for a year. Currently, the shelter receives about seven passes per day from the city, although the shelter uses private money to buy additional passes.

Shelter director Loring Henderson said the demand for bus passes from residents is far outstripping the supply. As you probably remember, late last year the shelter moved from downtown to the far eastern edge of the city, next to the Douglas County Jail.

Both city and shelter leaders knew transportation would be an issue, but it has been a bigger problem than expected, Henderson said. The shelter gives passes to residents for purposes such as job interviews, doctor’s appointments and other appointments related to their efforts to find work and housing. The shelter operates its own van service as well, but has found that fuel prices alone will total about $15,000 a year.

“I want people to understand we’re not unhappy with the facility or its location at all,” Henderson said. “If we were in the middle of downtown, there would be other issues we are dealing with. There are always issues to deal with. This is the issue we’re dealing with at this location.”

• The more interesting information about the shelter is that the facility already is running at near capacity, Henderson told commissioners.

The shelter has been at or near its 125-person capacity on most nights, even as the weather has turned warmer. “The 125 number is one that we thought we may reach on freezing nights, but it really has become an almost every-night number,” Henderson said.

Henderson said he thought the increase largely could be attributed to the rise in the number of homeless families that now feel comfortable using the new shelter.

• Shelter officials also are asking for a unique piece of financial assistance from the city. Shelter leaders want the city to provide financing for about $500,000 in construction costs that were related to the new facility.

The shelter currently is repaying a $500,000 construction loan to a local bank, but that loan has a 5 percent interest rate. If the city shifted the loan over to the city’s books, the interest rate would be significantly lower. Shelter officials believe the interest rate could drop to about 2 percent, although that is dependent on the bond market. Henderson estimates the new financing could save the shelter about $15,000 a year in interest costs.

The shelter is proposing to repay the city the $500,000 in principal and interest over a 30-year period. City commissioners took no action on the request. Instead, city staff members are researching the feasibility of the proposal.

• Tennis courts also were discussed at Tuesday’s meeting. The Lawrence Tennis Association has been lobbying for the city to install lights at the eight tennis courts near Lawrence High. Nearby residents have staunchly opposed the idea because they fear the lights would shine into their homes.

Commissioners thought they had settled the issue earlier by agreeing to build eight lighted tennis courts at the Rock Chalk Park property in northwest Lawrence. Tennis association members said they’re excited about the prospect of those courts, but they still feel that lighting the existing courts makes sense and would complete a promise made by the city.

So commissioners agree to re-open the issue. But the effort to add lights was about as successful as my backhand volley. (If I played on the courts, neighbors would need to worry about tennis balls entering their homes, not light.)

Residents around the court nearly filled the City Commission room to express opposition to the lighting plan. Commissioners had heard enough, and voted 5-0 to deny the lighting. Commissioners also directed staff members to look at the special-use permit for the tennis courts and determine whether language could be added to the permit to make it clear there won’t be lights at the facility in the future.

The tennis issue has been a lengthy one. The issue has been brewing since 2008, when the school district approved plans to remove the previous courts to make way for renovations at Lawrence High.

The issue also has been a costly one. Originally, the city was planning on spending $100,000 to add lights at the new facility. But when neighborhood opposition emerged, the city eventually shifted gears to the new tennis facility at Rock Chalk Park.

The city had estimated it would cost about $640,000 to build those courts, but it appears that estimate was low. Although it didn’t receive much discussion last night, commissioners did learn that the cost for the tennis facility has increased.

As part of the new estimates for Rock Chalk Park infrastructure, it was learned a $170,000 retaining wall will need to be built as part of the tennis court project. In case you add like I volley, that brings the tennis court portion of the project to $810,000.


David Holroyd 4 years, 11 months ago

The Commission continues to Rob the Hood to sport every whim of Loring Henderson. Free bus passes and a a derelict parking system downtown. The great T experiment continues.

4 years, 11 months ago

Oh look, another post about hatin' the T from Wilbur. Gettin' realllly old, bud.

somebodynew 4 years, 11 months ago

Near capacity. Who was it that said "If you build it they will come" ?? And surprise !!! They need more money than originally talked about. Wow, who would have thought that ???

tomatogrower 4 years, 11 months ago

Or some of the families who were scared to stay at the old shelter and spent the night in a car or moving around from family member to family member, feel safer in this shelter.

Alceste 4 years, 11 months ago

All this blarney about "families" taking up space at the shelter. Alceste would like to know, please what % of the shelter population represents "families" and what % represents single male residents; and what % represents single female residents; what % represents single residents age 50+; etc. Where can one find the numbers?

When Alceste phones the shelter and asks these very basic questions, no answers are provided. "I don't know is...." is the typical response.

parrothead8 4 years, 11 months ago

Why does Alceste consider this information to be blarney? Does Alceste have evidence that it is blarney? Maybe people at the shelter have more pressing issues to deal with. If it's so important to Alceste, maybe Alceste could go down to the shelter one night and take a survey.

d_prowess 4 years, 11 months ago

I actually think those are great questions to be asked and numbers that the shelter should be tracking, if they are not. The city is providing them with a lot of resources so the shelter has a responsibility to be transparent on who is being served.

Irenaku 4 years, 11 months ago

I agree with you, and I think it is awesome when people refer to themselves in the third person.. :)

Jennifer Dropkin 4 years, 11 months ago

"That brings the tennis court portion of the project to $810,000" and "The shelter currently is repaying a $500,000 construction loan to a local bank." We should forgo the tennis courts and pay the shelter's construction loan instead. And the Chamber of Commerce should pony up for more transit tickets for shelter residents since the Chamber was so anxious to sweep the homeless out of sight downtown. Priorities, priorities.

geekin_topekan 4 years, 11 months ago

From the shelter website-- "Family Program served 44 families with 62 adults and 75 children 64% male; 36% female 17% under 19 years of age; 78% between 20 and 59 years; 5% over 60 years of age 61% white; 19% African-American; 6% Native-American; 14% Other 41% with mental illness; 47% with substance abuse 27% with a history of head injury vs 3% for the U.S. population"

These are from hte 2011 report. Perhaps Alceste could call Loring and ask for the latest report.

50YearResident 4 years, 10 months ago

2 year old information is worthless. That is before the move to the new building. Provide real numbers, not percentages

scaramouchepart2 4 years, 11 months ago

National average is 37% of people in homeless shelters are families. The real number is higher. The National Conference on Homelessness states most of the families lost their homes after losing decent paying jobs.

jhawkinsf 4 years, 11 months ago

Poverty pimps giving numbers like those should be no more believed than when oil company execs. tell us what our energy needs should be. No more believed than when the military industrial complex profiteers tell us what our security needs are. No more believed than ... well, you get the picture.

jimmyjms 4 years, 11 months ago

jhawkinsf wins the day for most ridiculous comparisons ever. "Poverty pimps?"

You have no idea what you're talking about.

jhawkinsf 4 years, 11 months ago

I worked in social services for years, working with the homeless for the final few years. Funding depends on numbers. Those in charge of the numbers become, what's a polite way to say it ... creative.

jimmyjms 4 years, 11 months ago

Where? With what agency? You have specific information about this facility and this group of providers?

If not, and it's obvious you don't, then you don't know what you're talking about.

jhawkinsf 4 years, 11 months ago

Giving too much information on an anonymous forum would defeat the purpose of it being anonymous. Believe me if you wish. Don't if that's your choice.

Scott Morgan 4 years, 11 months ago

jhawk.....is correcto, creative is indeed an excellent word choice. Anybody know how the definition of homeless has changed regarding public schools?

A clue, the homeless numbers really jumped when we began to use this formula.

Kathy Theis-Getto 4 years, 11 months ago

You mean the McKinney-Vento Act? Tell me where the "creativity" is.

bearded_gnome 4 years, 11 months ago

I am so glad that the commission decided not to make that a free entry stop for the T, as so many were seeking. massive free passes is only alittle better.

at least those are distributed through the shelter.

having a stop where people could board for free would, I believe, cause a lot of potential trouble for drivers, and the system. if you have to pay for something, or manage a limited resource, you treat it with some respect. if not, you don't.
a free ride entry bus stop would have increased disruptive situations on the buses which drivers would face.

free riders would be more likely to trash buses.

and no KU students/faculty/staff don't ride for free, they actually prepay, big diference.

Deb Engstrom 4 years, 11 months ago

Anyone can walk to a bus stop on campus and board any bus free. Then you can get a transfer and go anywhere in town. You don't have to be a student/faculty/staff to do this.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 11 months ago

How many want the homeless in their neighborhoods 24/7? There is no law against being homeless.

elliottaw 4 years, 11 months ago

no yet but I am sure it will come up at the next get together in Topeka

Richard Heckler 4 years, 11 months ago

No eastside tennis courts hmmmmmm.

There is a tennis court at 31st and Louisiana that could be rehabilitated with lights. This way some would not need to drive 20 miles round trip to do tennis at night.

There is not one tennis court in east Lawrence. More discrimination.

Lawrence Parks and Recreation Department provides lighted outdoor courts for free play at the following locations:

--- Deerfield Park, 2901 Princeton Blvd.

--- Holcom Park, 2700 West 27th St.

--- Lyons Park, 700 N. Lyon St.

--- Veteran's Park,1840 Louisana. Players may activate the lights by push button. The light will shut off automatically.

Non-lighted courts are located elsewhere.

--- "Dad" Perry Park, 1200 Monterey Way.

--- Prairie Park, 2811 Kensington.

Courts are available until 10 p.m. seven days a week. Lawrence Parks and Recreation offers tennis classes from beginning to intermediate players. These facilities may be reserved for tennis tournaments on a space available basis.

For more information or to reserve a Tennis Facility, please call (785) 832-7920. Lawrence Parks and Recreation Department provides lighted outdoor courts for free play at the following locations:

elliottaw 4 years, 11 months ago

unless you are trying to drive in the most zigzag pattern know to man, no two parts of Lawrence are 20 miles apart, and even if they were 10 miles apart then pick a court closer to you, I live on the far West side and drive my son to East Lawrence Rec center a couple times a week, it takes 10-15 minutes at best.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 11 months ago

I do support the vote on zero lights at the new tennis courts. This matter was ill conceived from day one as part of the $20 million tax dollar USD 497 PLAY project.

xbigdogz 4 years, 11 months ago

If the shelter had a capacity of 250, it would have 250 people staying there every night of the year.

blindrabbit 4 years, 11 months ago

The Field of Dreams comparison is not without some merit! For the 41% with "substance abuse" as the given reason for staying at the Homeless Shelter, the "Build it and They Will Come" has special significance; many of these folks the only "dreams" they have is the next hit, be it alcohol or some other form of drug. I thought the "Shelter" was going to operate in such a way as to not give a permanence to this category of "homeless". and somehow get them headed back into a productive lifestyle and not on the "dole" of the public. I have no problem with the others

Currahee 4 years, 11 months ago

5% is a very low interest rate. Does 15k a year make or break the shelter?

ontheright 4 years, 11 months ago

Why do we keep giving free money to those who do not contribute anything!

Stephanie Hull 4 years, 11 months ago

First, I don't believe these folks are not contributing anything. I imagine they spend a very high percentage of their meager income on sales tax. Second, I like to think that we're compassionate human beings who believe that, although there should be no limit placed on what you can achieve in America, we should have a minimum level under which no one should fall.

Patricia Davis 4 years, 11 months ago

While I agree with most of what you have said, I do believe there is a limit to compassion if a person is not willing to stay sober.

ICUNVME 4 years, 11 months ago

"... but it has been a bigger problem than expected,"

It always is. If there is only one thing you can count on in this town, that is it.

ICUNVME 4 years, 11 months ago

"The more interesting information about the shelter is that the facility already is running at near capacity, Henderson told commissioners."

Build it and they will come.

Michelle Reynolds 4 years, 11 months ago

What is the percentage of douglas county homeless compared to the out of towners. I think the shelter should give preference to our locals in need. If our tax money is helping support the shelter I want my friends and neighbors to get help before the transients.

50YearResident 4 years, 10 months ago

Does the shelter have a book keeping systen to show how much money is coming in and what it is spent on? Has the shelter ever been audited to make sure the books are maintained as they should be? Is there an agency that overlooks the opperation besides Mr. Henderson? This should be public information.

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