Douglas County commissioners approve $50,000 for aid to homeless families

Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority soon will start issuing more housing vouchers to homeless families living in the Lawrence Community Shelter after Douglas County commissioners approved the organization’s request for $50,000 on Wednesday.

The program, which will provide transitional housing assistance for homeless families, closely resembles a federally-funded program already in place in Douglas County, said Shannon Oury, Housing Authority executive director. The end goal is to help struggling families get back on their feet.

This year, the federal transitional housing program received just over $174,000, nearly half the $300,000 the program received in 2011 and 2010, Oury said. That decrease has precipitated the need for the new, locally-funded program.

“Our funding has been decreasing, which means we’ve been helping fewer families, which means you have families at the shelter long and families at Family Promise trying to figure out something do to,” she said. “They’re waiting on our list sometimes more than a year to get funding.”

In the transitional housing program, families pay what they can of rent and utility bills while Housing Authority pays the difference directly to the landlords and utility providers for two years. During those two years, families must enroll in mandatory “wraparound” services offered throughout the community to help them become more self-sufficient.

Wraparound services are offered through area organizations such as Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center, Willow Domestic Violence Center and Independence Inc., among others.

The program has an 83 percent success rate, Oury said.

In August, the city of Lawrence approved a one-time payment of $100,000 for the program out of its 2016 budget. The $50,000 approved by county commissioners will come out of the 2015 budget and is meant to start the program this year.

County Commissioner Nancy Thellman said she supports the new program and hopes the financial commitment will become an annual one in order to help as many families as possible.

Currently there are 53 families in Douglas County waiting for transitional housing assistance, 17 of which are living at the Lawrence Community Shelter, Oury said. The new program will give priority to Douglas County families with children living at that shelter.

Oury estimated on Tuesday the $50,000 may be able to help about five families into transitional housing.

Other business

Also Wednesday, commissioners approved exempting the Douglas County Fairgrounds from certain alcohol restrictions and deferred to next week’s meeting a one-year extension for a conditional use permit for Public Wholesale Water Supply District No. 25.

County commissioners meet at 4 p.m. each Wednesday in the Douglas County Courthouse, 1100 Massachusetts St. The meetings are open to the public, and a full agenda is available online at