Leader of Lawrence Community Shelter says the homeless shelter must gain ‘significant’ funding support or face closure

photo by: Jackson Barton

The Lawrence Community Shelter is pictured Friday Aug. 9, 2019.

Story updated at 6:45 p.m. Tuesday, July 18:

In a message to community members Tuesday afternoon, the leader of the Lawrence Community Shelter said the shelter must gain significant community funding support or face closure.

LCS Interim Executive Director Melanie Valdez sent an “urgent appeal” to supporters via email asking for support to sustain the shelter’s services, which states that the funding support the shelter’s currently receiving falls short of what is necessary to sustain operations. As the Journal-World reported, the shelter expanded its capacity from about 50 to roughly 125 in early March. Of the expanded capacity, about 25 of those slots have allowed people to remain at the shelter 24/7 and receive case management services, and the remaining 100 or so slots are overnight-only. Under the increased capacity of 125, the message from Valdez notes that the shelter has provided services to about 374 unique individuals in the first half of 2023 alone.

That expanded capacity was paid for with the city’s pandemic relief aid, which not only isn’t enough to sustain those operations by itself but also is running dry, according to the message.

“We have seen a significant decrease in resources due to pandemic relief coming to an end and grants for emergency shelter services becoming more and more difficult to obtain because best practices point to non-congregate shelter and housing as solutions, not congregate shelter like ours,” Valdez said in the message.

To fill that gap, Valdez said the shelter has cut expenses where it can and focused on staffing to provide quality services. The message also served as an announcement that the shelter’s annual chocolate and tea fundraiser is being revived after being discontinued during the pandemic. The fundraiser will return Nov. 5 — but the message also notes that it’s clear the “critical need for funds” can’t wait until November and includes multiple links for people to donate now.

While the message from Valdez notes that there is an “overwhelming” financial burden to keep the shelter open, it doesn’t go into detail about how wide that gap might be or how long it might be before the shelter could be forced to close. The Journal-World has reached out to Valdez for more information about both of those questions, but she had yet to respond as of 5 p.m. Tuesday.

At Tuesday’s Lawrence City Commission meeting, Mayor Lisa Larsen asked the commission to add a $148,000 payment to the Lawrence Community Shelter to the city’s claims for July 18, which was approved unanimously.

That’s half of the $296,000 the city pays annually to support the shelter, Commissioner Brad Finkeldei noted. Commissioner Amber Sellers clarified that the action taken Tuesday just expedites the city’s payment to the shelter so it’s taking place earlier in the budget year, rather than occurring later; it isn’t any new money. It wasn’t clear when the payment was originally scheduled to take place, but Sellers said it usually happens sometime in August.

City Manager Craig Owens added that Douglas County also contributes about the same amount of funding to the shelter as the city does, but on a quarterly basis rather than twice per year.


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