As frigid weather increases demand, Lawrence City Commission to consider spending another $90,000 on hotel shelter program for homeless people
photo by: Nick Gerik
City leaders will soon consider spending another $90,000 on a program that shelters homeless people in hotels, allowing the program to continue operating another few weeks amid frigid temperatures.
As part of its meeting Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission will consider authorizing spending another $90,000 from the general fund to sustain the program through March 5, which would bring the total city funds spent on the program since its inception to $340,000.
The city approved $200,000 of extra funding for the hotel shelter program in January, which staff estimated would be enough to fund the program through the second week of March. However, according to a city staff memo to the commission, the recent frigid temperatures have increased costs. The memo states that since the arrival of extreme cold weather Feb. 7, the shelter has been seeing an increased number of guests, and the city has also been bearing additional costs to shelter people during the day instead of just at night.
More specifically, since colder temperatures arrived, the program has gone from sheltering about 100 people per night to as many as 193 people. The memo states that with the current demand and the need to keep the shelter open during the day to avoid dangers of hypothermia and frostbite, the program is costing the city about $7,000 per day. Staff anticipates those factors will not change until at least Feb. 19, when the weather is expected to become warmer.
The hotel shelter has been open since Dec. 23 and is coordinated by the city, the faith group Justice Matters and the Coalition for Homeless Concerns. It’s intended to provide a safe shelter for homeless people that doesn’t involve a congregate setting that could put them at risk of contracting COVID-19. The city has a contract with Days Inn, 730 Iowa St., with negotiated rates and fees, but so many people have been using the program that the city has had to pay market rate to house people in additional hotels, according to the city staff memo.
In addition to its city funding, the program has received donations of money, food and supplies. Parks and Recreation Director Derek Rogers said that includes $8,700 in grants from the Douglas County Community Foundation and $15,000 donated by Tom and Marilyn Dobski. The memo says donations of food, clothing and other necessities from organizations and the community at large are delivered to the shelter program daily.
The program has also been able to decrease some of its costs. In the first two weeks of the program, commissioners voiced concern after they learned about 25% of the funding was being spent on damages, smoking fees and other fines, as the Journal-World previously reported. The majority of those fees were being charged by the Super 8 motel, where the city did not have a negotiated contract for room costs and fees. Since then, the program has been able to reduce damage and other fees with stricter guest policies and by encouraging double bunking at Days Inn.
According to an update provided to the commission earlier this month, from Jan. 6 to Jan. 24, the city was able to reduce the average expense per person from $52.49 per day to $34.55 per day and reduce the damages and fees from 26% to 15% of expenses, as compared to the first two weeks of the program.
The City Commission will convene virtually 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, lawrenceks.org.