Lawrence City Commission to discuss efforts to address homelessness, issues related to camps

photo by: Rochelle Valverde

A handful of tents are seen in Watson Park on April 1, 2021.

Amid concerns with the number of people camping throughout the city, Lawrence city leaders will soon meet with local social service providers and county leaders to discuss the problem of homelessness and what is being done to address it.

As part of its study session Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission will receive a presentation on the various services supporting people experiencing homelessness as well as efforts being made by Douglas County leaders. The commission requested the study session after some residents called for the community to take immediate action to help house the unsheltered people of Lawrence and others expressed concerns about the number of people camping in parks and other public areas throughout the city.

The discussion comes after potentially as many as 200 people returned to camping in recent weeks after the city’s temporary hotel shelter program closed in March. As the Journal-World reported, new campsites in the wooded areas along the Kansas River and other park areas have since sprung back up, and city staff and volunteer groups have been working to clean up trash and debris from active and abandoned campsites.

Tuesday’s presentation will include information about the agencies and systems serving people experiencing homelessness; impacts within the city’s park system; impacts in the downtown area; and reports from city departments on their interactions with the public related to these issues, according to a city staff memo to the commission. City staff and personnel from several partner agencies, including Douglas County, Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center, the Lawrence Community Shelter and the Kansas Statewide Homeless Coalition will provide the presentation.

Assistant City Manager Brandon McGuire previously told the Journal-World that the meeting would go beyond just issues with camping and that professionals working in the field would discuss the different scopes, focuses and missions among them, and how those efforts work together. McGuire said personnel from the Lawrence Community Shelter would discuss the housing-first model, and someone from Bert Nash would discuss outreach to people experiencing homelessness and the coordinated entry system, which aims to coordinate the provision of social services. In addition, he said Douglas County staff would discuss the Built for Zero initiative that works to address chronic homelessness.

The study session will also include a discussion of immediate and near-term needs with the service system, as well as ongoing and future coordination between the City of Lawrence and Douglas County governments, according to the memo.

The City Commission will convene virtually for its regular meeting at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday with limited staff in place at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St. The city has asked that residents participate in the meeting virtually if they are able to do so. A link to register for the Zoom meeting and directions to submit written public comment are included in the agenda that is available on the city’s website,


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