Lawrence homeless shelter to host open house at soon-to-be-home on Sunday

Loring Henderson, director of the Lawrence Community Shelter, provides a tour Thursday of the new homeless shelter facility, which is located at 3701 Franklin Park Circle. The shelter, which is still undergoing some finishing construction touches and will not be move-in ready until the end of the year, will be open to the public during an open house from noon to 4 p.m. on Sunday.

There will be lots to see at Sunday’s open house for the Lawrence Community Shelter’s soon-to-be-completed new home — everything from a large dining room and kitchen to actual dormitories.

But John Tacha, chair of the shelter’s board of directors, suspects that he’ll like seeing the smiles inside the building the most.

“Seeing the faces of the staff who have been working in small cramped spaces for so long is what really gets me excited,” Tacha said.

Shelter leaders will host an open house from noon to 4 p.m. on Sunday at the shelter’s future home, a converted warehouse building at 3701 Franklin Park Circle.

“We’re going to try to answer all the questions people have about what the new shelter is going to look like,” Loring Henderson, executive director of the homeless shelter, said.

The space isn’t yet ready to move into. Crews with Lawrence-based B.A. Green Construction are expected to complete work by Dec. 21. Henderson hopes the shelter will move from its current location at 10th and Kentucky streets into the new building by the end of the year.

While visitors on Sunday won’t see the finished product, they will see how much different the space is from the cramped facility downtown.

The current shelter is about 7,700 square feet, spread out on a couple of levels. The new shelter will have 15,000 square feet of space for sleeping, dining and shelter programs. In addition, the shelter has another 10,000 square feet of vacant warehouse space that it plans to use for job training programs and partnerships with private businesses who want to hire shelter guests for various jobs.

The main 15,000-square-foot shelter has been designed to be separated into several areas. They include:

• Nine private rooms for homeless families and their children.

• A large day room that will have room for about 90 lockers to give the guests a safe place to store their basic possessions.

• Separate men’s and women’s dormitories, equipped with bunk beds and storage rather than the mats the shelter currently rolls out onto the floors each night.

• A full kitchen and dining room that will serve three meals per day to shelter guests.

• A medical exam room for nurses from Baker University and other programs to come and provide health care to shelter guests.

• 10 offices for shelter staff and case workers to meet privately with guests. The offices will include two spaces for outside agencies to use at the shelter, to alleviate the need for shelters guests to travel all over town to meet with social workers.

Henderson said other transportation concerns that some had with the site, which is on the far east edge of town next to the Douglas County Jail, also have been addressed. The city already has established a new bus route that goes by the shelter site.

When the shelter does open, more space won’t be the only thing that changes. The shelter will stop serving as a community drop-in center. At its downtown location, the shelter has served as a place where anybody could drop in and get off the streets for the day.

At the new location, only people who have agreed to enroll in a shelter program and actively work to get out of homelessness will be allowed in the facility.

“We will be more structured,” Henderson said. “I think that is what people will notice about the new shelter. Right now we are so crowded and have so many people coming and going that it is hard to get the continuity between the case managers and the guests that you really need.”

The open house will give shelter leaders a chance to personally thank contributors to a capital campaign that raised about $3.3 million for the project. The project received a $540,000 grant from the Mabee Foundation in Tulsa, Okla., but the bulk of the money came from local donors.

“Hopefully all the people who donated will come out and see the facility,” Tacha said. “We had all types of people donate. We had people walk up to the window and give $10 when they really probably didn’t have it to give.

“The whole project says a lot about Lawrence. We had a thousand people contribute to it. That’s gratifying because it shows a really broad cross section of the community supports what we’re doing.”