City of Lawrence to use pandemic aid to support shelter’s capacity increase; 98 of 125 beds will be overnight only

photo by: City of Lawrence contributed

Bryon Wright, Lawrence horticulturist, helps set up beds at the Lawrence Community Shelter, 3655 E. 25th St.

In an indicator of the closer relationship between the City of Lawrence and the Lawrence Community Shelter, the city plans to use a portion of its pandemic aid to pay additional staffing costs for the shelter to expand its capacity to 125 people.

The city announced Thursday that beginning March 13, the day after the city’s winter emergency shelter at the Community Building in downtown Lawrence is set to close for the season, LCS’ capacity will be increased to 125 people. Assistant City Manager Brandon McGuire said Friday that the city would be providing staff and resources to support the increased capacity, as well as helping to fund additional staffing at the shelter. He said the exact arrangement was still being determined, but that the city would be using federal pandemic aid to support the change.

“The city has been hiring monitors for the winter emergency shelter and the support site (in North Lawrence) and so, one way or the other, we’re going to support their additional staffing needs; we’re just not exactly sure what it’s going to look like,” McGuire said. “I will say that the city is going to fund it; to the extent that (the shelter is) adding new employees, the city is committing to paying for those employees.”

McGuire said that city staff also provided other assistance to get the shelter ready for the additional people, including some basic facility maintenance, setting up additional beds, placing privacy screening between beds, prepping for the installation of a bedbug mitigation system, and tree trimming to improve sight lines for the building’s camera system. He said bedding and other supplies, which the city has already had to procure for its winter emergency shelter, would also be provided.

McGuire said since particulars of the staffing arrangement are still being determined, he could not yet give an estimate of the cost, but that the additional funding would come from the $4.5 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds that the Lawrence City Commission previously allocated toward a modular home project and other emergency shelter efforts. He said there would need to be additional conversations about how to support increased capacity in the future, recognizing that those needs may also shift.

“Those are definitely future conversations that we need to have, about a sustainable funding source long term,” McGuire said. “And I would say, ultimately our goal is not to run hundreds of shelter beds, it’s to get people into housing. And I know there will always be a need for some sheltering capacity, but we hope that is substantially less in the long run than what we are having to create right now.”

photo by: City of Lawrence contributed

Matt Cosgrove, a Lawrence parks and facility maintenance tech, helps set up beds at the Lawrence Community Shelter, 3655 E. 25th St.

The increased capacity will also represent some changes for the approximately 50 people who have been staying at the shelter recently. Of the 125 total spaces that will be open at the shelter beginning March 13, roughly 98 will be for overnight only, according to LCS Interim Executive Director Melanie Valdez, which means some of the people the shelter currently serves will no longer be able to stay at the shelter during the day.

Valdez said that beginning March 13, there will be 22 to 24 beds available for the shelter’s continuous stay program, which allows people to remain at the shelter 24/7, and the shelter is currently negotiating another three beds being dedicated to the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office’s re-entry program.

As for the roughly 25 people who will have to shift from continuous stay to night-by-night, Valdez said the shelter looked at various criteria to prioritize who needed to be in the continuous stay program.

“With the input of various staff/case management and input from the individuals themselves, we prioritized based on need with the highest priority being the exceptionally vulnerable based on age or disability,” Valdez said via email.

She said for those who have to leave during the day, the shelter would be working to connect them with resources and make referrals as needed. Like McGuire, she said the format of the program may shift based on needs.

“It is our job to work with each person that enters our service to identify their needs, barriers and goals and help connect them to the proper resources,” Valdez said. “We do hope that as we get to know the individuals more and understand their needs that we can offer more resources during the day here at LCS. This is just one step and it is a lot to change within a short amount of time. We will learn and make adjustments as we go.”

Regarding other elements of the shelter’s services, Valdez said that the shelter would continue to serve adults only, and would continue to use the tiny homes on the shelter’s property for isolation of those with communicable illnesses and on a case-by-case basis for those who have difficulty living in a congregate setting.

As far as what additional staffing the shelter anticipates it will need, Valdez said that at minimum, the shelter will need an additional four to five full-time positions (or equivalent hours) for frontline staff and an additional case manager. She said she presented the staffing needed to city representatives and they agreed it was reasonable. She said the shelter has also made additional internal changes that will help support the 125-bed capacity, including an increase to base wages for frontline workers that has helped improve employee retention, as well as a new staffing structure that provides for increased staffing support at high-need times.

“The plan will allow us to put more frontline workers in place during the evenings and nights to provide better supervision while at a higher capacity and also improve quality when it comes to data entry and meeting funding expectations,” Valdez said.

In February, the city reported that it had recently begun discussions to build a much stronger connection between the city and LCS. Plans called for city leadership and staff from the two organizations to work to analyze and develop a plan to expand and improve services to more people over the next six months. The report went on to state that recent discussion with LCS and other key community partners included the city assuming “a much tighter relationship (including potentially full merger)” with LCS.

McGuire said that the city’s additional support was part of the city’s efforts to work more closely with the shelter, rather than an official change in the relationship, and that currently the focus was on getting additional shelter beds created immediately. He said an agreement regarding funding for the additional capacity would likely be incorporated into the upcoming funding agreement between the shelter, the city and the county. He said that any other changes, including any merger, would also need to be considered by the Lawrence City Commission. He said the city has also hired LCS employees to help monitor the city-managed camping area in North Lawrence, and that the closing date for that site continues to be set for June, when the city anticipates creating the modular home village on a yet-to-be-determined site.


Welcome to the new Our old commenting system has been replaced with Facebook Comments. There is no longer a separate username and password login step. If you are already signed into Facebook within your browser, you will be able to comment. If you do not have a Facebook account and do not wish to create one, you will not be able to comment on stories.