Lawrence City Commission to consider providing additional funding for drop-in overnight shelter at local hotel
photo by: Nick Gerik
With the initial startup funds expected to run out soon, Lawrence city leaders will soon discuss providing more money for an overnight cold-weather shelter for homeless people at a local hotel.
On Dec. 23, the city and a volunteer group coordinated to open an overnight drop-in shelter at the Days Inn, 730 Iowa St., to provide a safe option in cold temperatures for the more than 100 homeless people who were estimated to be sleeping outside at the time. The Lawrence City Commission previously authorized $50,000 from the city’s general fund to get the program started, and it will consider allocating additional funding as part of its meeting Tuesday.
Assistant City Manager Brandon McGuire said that any additional funding allocated Tuesday would also come from the city’s general fund, though the city could potentially be reimbursed for those costs through coronavirus relief or other federal grants. He said any potential grants would not be identified until later.
“Most likely in the immediate future, if we are going to continue funding it, we are going to do that through general fund balance,” McGuire said. “We’ll talk about some of the possible (grant) options, but with any grant process, it obviously takes some time to work through.”
The shelter at the Days Inn operates when temperatures are below 35 degrees, so how long the funding would last was dependent on weather and on how many people used the service. Volunteers from the faith group Justice Matters and the Coalition for Homeless Concerns run the program at no cost to the city, and that collaboration continues to seek volunteers and donations through the Lawrence Winter Shelter Facebook page.
The hotel shelter program is a socially distanced version of the drop-in winter shelters that were operated by local churches last winter, and it was pursued because of the risk of spreading the coronavirus in congregate settings. The city estimated the $50,000 would last until at least Jan. 15. As part of its meeting, the commission will receive an update on the program’s expenditures thus far, then decide whether the city will continue to fund the program and how much funding will be provided.
From Dec. 23 through Dec. 30, which included several nights of freezing temperatures, the city spent about $32,500 on the program, according to a city staff memo to the commission. During that time, the program provided 476 room nights and housed 601 guests, which includes duplicate guests over multiple nights. Some nights, so many people showed up that the city had to rent additional rooms at another hotel nearby.
However, McGuire said the city was confident that the expansion of a hotel voucher program at the Econo Lodge University hotel, 2525 W. Sixth St., would relieve some of the demand the city is seeing at the Days Inn shelter.
The program at Econo Lodge has been administered by the Lawrence Community Shelter since early in the pandemic but since Dec. 30 has also involved the city. The city-led version of the program, which continues to be operated by the shelter, was able to provide additional room nights with the help of a grant received by the city. The shelter also continues to operate out of its eastern Lawrence location. The city is also helping to run a temporary campsite with 20 heated tents in Woody Park, also grant funded, which McGuire said continued to operate at full capacity.
Under its contract with Days Inn, the city pays $47 per room night and has access to a minimum of 20 rooms, according to the memo. The memo states that a minimum of 28 rooms have been used each night the shelter was open and that overflow rooms were sometimes used at the nearby Super 8 motel. Room rates at the Super 8 range from $60.99 to $129.99 per night.
The $32,500 spent on the program so far comprised about $25,000 for room nights and about $7,500 for specific damages that the city agreed to reimburse as part of its contract with Days Inn, such as the cost to replace towels and other property, pet cleaning fees and other costs.
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.