Temporary Pallet shelter site for those experiencing homelessness in the works, but timeline for opening unclear
photo by: City of Lawrence
An unanticipated historic review, and potentially other factors, have delayed the construction of a temporary shelter site the city plans to open on North Michigan Street. City leaders could potentially review some outstanding items related to the project on June 6, though a timeline remains unclear.
The City of Lawrence initially hoped that the site would be open by June, but it appears it will be at least a couple of weeks before the site will be operational. The triggering of a historic review for the demolition of existing modular buildings on the site may be one reason for the delay, but the city did not grant an interview request or respond to all questions from the Journal-World, and outstanding elements of the project and timelines remain unclear. In an emailed response to questions, city spokesperson Laura McCabe said planning for the project was complex and “some variables remain unknown.” She didn’t specify which variables.
“This is a complex undertaking requiring coordination with several departmental experts, outside vendors, and community groups who will be directly affected,” McCabe said. “It is safe to say we will not meet our aggressive June estimate.”
In March, the Lawrence City Commission approved spending $1.11 million to purchase shelter structures from the company Pallet and $725,000 to purchase a property at 256 North Michigan St. to serve as the location of the “Pallet Shelter Village.” Unlike a city-managed campsite currently operating in North Lawrence, the city plans to hire an outside agency to provide 24/7 management of the Pallet Shelter Village, but bids for that element of the project have not yet come forward for the commission’s consideration. The city anticipates the Pallet Shelter Village being in place three to five years.
Since the city’s initial estimate regarding when the Pallet Shelter Village could open, a previously unanticipated historic review was triggered, and the deadline to submit a proposal to operate the site was extended. It is not clear whether the deadline for proposals was extended because of the historic review or for other reasons, or which other elements of the project are still outstanding.
The need to complete a historic review related to the demolition was not initially discussed when the commission voted on elements of the project in March. The review was triggered because the site is near a historic landmark, the Judge Nelson T. Stephens House located at 320-340 North Michigan St., according to a city memo. City staff has recommended approval of the demolition of the buildings on the shelter site — a Morton-style building and two trailers that are shielded from the historic property by a tree line. In the recommendation, staff states in part that the modular buildings do not contribute to the historic structure and their demolition does not negatively affect the environment. The Historic Resources Commission reviewed the demolition request on May 18, and voted 7-0 to recommend its approval. The soonest that recommendation could go to the City Commission for consideration would be June 6.
The city released the request for proposals for a service provider to operate the site on May 2, but this past week extended the deadline to submit a proposal until 2 p.m. on June 6. The commission meets that day, but it’s unclear if the city’s elected leaders will be asked to approve an operator that day. Once the buildings on the site are demolished, past information provided to the commission indicated that the prefabricated structures could be assembled quickly. However, it is possible there are other outstanding components of the project.
The Journal-World requested an interview with someone involved with the project to receive an update on the project’s status, but McCabe did not respond to requests to set one up. The newspaper subsequently sent her questions via email. They included whether there was a ballpark estimate for when the pending demolition of the existing buildings on the site and the construction of the Pallet structures could occur; whether a service provider to operate the site had been identified; and what other elements of the project were still outstanding.
Though McCabe didn’t provide specifics about an overall timeline to open the site, she said the city was working hard to coordinate the many elements of the project and hoped to have a public update on its progress for the commission’s June 6 meeting. She said there was a meeting on Monday, May 22, with Pallet representatives and others involved in the project from an operational and construction standpoint. She said the meeting was productive, and the city was working strategically to update the public while some variables remained unknown. She said once the June 6 update was presented to the commission she’d be available for questions.
“We work carefully to update the neighbors directly affected (after receiving their input), our county and city partners, and the public — so it’s a process,” McCabe said.
The city’s request for proposals states in part that the city is seeking proposals from agencies equipped to provide 24/7 management of the Pallet Shelter Village and provide client support services directly and/or in coordination with Douglas County Health, Housing and Human Services and other local and/or regional nonprofit agencies. The RFP states the selected agency will serve as the lead operations manager and service coordinator to ensure the overall success of the Pallet Shelter Village as well as the success of its clients in their recovery from homelessness. It goes on to state that the contractor will also serve as a lead point of contact with neighborhood stakeholders and proactively plan for, address and collaborate on neighborhood needs related to the project.
The city is working with neighborhood groups and other organizations that previously expressed safety and other concerns about the site. As the Journal-World previously reported, the Pinkney Neighborhood Association, the Woodcreek Townhomes and Woodcreek Condos; and nearby Children’s Learning Center all expressed various concerns about the city’s plans. Margretta de Vries, HOA board president of the Woodcreek Townhouse Association, said via email that the city has invited Woodcreek, along with the Pinkney Neighborhood Association and the Children’s Learning Center, to have a representative on a city staff committee working on the project.
The city has previously said it planned to continue operating the city-managed campsite in North Lawrence where people experiencing homelessness have been living in tents since October 2022 until the new Pallet Shelter Village opens.