City of Lawrence opens emergency shelter with 75 beds for winter season; volunteers still needed

photo by: Shawn Valverde

Sharon Miller, a volunteer with the faith-based advocacy group Justice Matters, helps check people in at the Winter Emergency Shelter at the Community Building, 115 W. 11th St., on Dec. 1, 2022.

The City of Lawrence is set to open an emergency shelter for the winter season, which will have enough space to accommodate 75 people with limited overflow available at the Lawrence Community Shelter.

This is the second year the city will operate the Winter Emergency Shelter in the Community Building, 115 W. 11th St., in downtown Lawrence. City staff will be evaluating the use of the shelter and the city-run campsite in North Lawrence to determine whether the camp is still needed.

“We are kind of in that wait and see,” said Cicely Thornton, homeless programs project specialist with the city. “Unfortunately, we don’t know how many people are going to choose to use the winter shelter. I believe that there will be a progression of folks that will make their way here.”

Originally, the city estimated the camp would be in place until March 12, at which time the city anticipates opening a longer-term campsite in another, yet-to-be-determined location. City spokesperson Porter Arneill said the city would take approximately the next week or two to assess whether the North Lawrence site is still needed, and would also be following the city ordinance that allows camping in the downtown district only when there are no available shelter beds. He said there are currently 62 people living at the North Lawrence site; however, the city’s Housing Initiatives Division estimates there are more than 200 people experiencing homelessness who are currently living unsheltered outdoors.

“So we know it’s less than 75, but we don’t know if others that may not be using the support site (in North Lawrence) will want to use this facility as well,” Arneill said.

photo by: Rochelle Valverde/Journal-World

Bedding is set out at the Community Building, 115 W. 11th St., as the city prepares to open the winter emergency shelter for the season on Dec. 1, 2022.

In a change from last year, the Lawrence Community Shelter, 3655 E. 25th St., in eastern Lawrence will be providing up to 12 beds should more than 75 people seek overnight shelter at the Community Building. Last year, the city planned to use the East Lawrence Recreation Center as an overflow site, but Thornton said the greatest number of people who sought shelter last year was 58 and the overflow site was never used.

The city will also be providing storage at the Community Building and allowing those seeking shelter to bring pets. Specifically, the city will be providing people with 30-gallon totes for their belongings while they are utilizing the emergency shelter, which will be kept in a storage container outside the Community Building. Arneill said crates for dogs and cats are available, and animals will be kept on site in the basement of the building, which is heated. The Lawrence Humane Society is providing crates, food, bowls and vaccinations, as well as vet services at the request of owners.

photo by: Shawn Valverde

People wait to enter the Winter Emergency Shelter at the Community Building, 115 W. 11th St., on Dec. 1, 2022.

photo by: Shawn Valverde

Volunteers hand out snacks to people at the Winter Emergency Shelter at the Community Building, 115 W. 11th St., on Dec. 1, 2022.

The city continues to seek volunteers to help staff the shelter, as fewer than a quarter of available shifts throughout the 3 1/2-month operation period are currently filled. Thornton said the city currently has two volunteer groups and about 25 individuals signed up to cover the shelter’s operating hours, which are broken into three shifts. She said volunteers are particularly needed for the overnight and early morning shifts, and that two city staff members would be used as needed to fill in any gaps.

“The intake shift is very popular, that 7 to 11 (p.m.) shift; the other two shifts have not as many volunteers, so that is where we still have needs,” Thornton said.

The city is also accepting donations of individually wrapped, single-serve snacks as well as cold weather gear and toiletries. Volunteer information and donation lists are available on the shelter’s website,, and donations may be dropped off with the Housing Initiatives Division, which is at the city’s Planning and Development Services offices at 1 Riverfront Plaza, Suite 320.

The shelter will be open every night from 8 p.m. to 7 a.m. from Dec. 1 through March 12. Guests must follow rules and regulations established for the site, which include not being disruptive, smoking only in appropriate outdoor areas, and not using alcohol or drugs on site, among others.

photo by: Shawn Valverde

Volunteers help check people in at the Winter Emergency Shelter at the Community Building, 115 W. 11th St., on Dec. 1, 2022.


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