Job description for Lawrence Community Shelter director says new leader will be responsible for managing Pallet Shelter Village — and much more

photo by: Shawn Valverde

The Lawrence Community Shelter, 3655 E. 25th St., is pictured on Thursday, Nov. 9, 2023.

Story updated at 5:52 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 9, 2023:

The Lawrence Community Shelter has released a detailed job posting as it searches for a new executive director, and it specifies that the new leader will be responsible for managing the City of Lawrence’s future Pallet Shelter Village, establishing a community outreach and day center facility and much more.

As the Journal-World reported, the shelter’s newly appointed board of directors voted earlier this month to conduct a national search for a permanent executive director. The shelter’s current leader, Melanie Valdez, has been serving in an interim role since April 2022 and told the Journal-World she hadn’t yet decided whether she’d apply for the permanent position.

photo by: Shawn Valverde

The site of the future Pallet Shelter Village at 256 N. Michigan St. is pictured on Thursday, Nov. 9, 2023.

According to the application, which was posted Wednesday, the shelter director will earn a salary between $90,000 and $120,000 annually depending on experience. It also lists seven “immediate priorities and future opportunities” the director will be responsible for addressing, one of which is managing the Pallet Shelter Village planned for 256 N. Michigan St. As it stands, the city still hasn’t chosen an operator for the community, which will house 50 small cabins intended to be transitional housing for people experiencing homelessness.

The other points on that list include:

• Expanding immediate access to low-barrier emergency shelter services, especially during inclement weather, to support single adults experiencing homelessness. The city recently confirmed that it doesn’t plan to operate a winter emergency shelter in downtown Lawrence this year, and the shelter would provide that service instead.

• Enhancing warehouse space utilization to increase capacity for the shelter’s night-by-night program and to create a “more segmented environment for distinct populations.” The shelter’s current capacity is 125, and about 100 of those slots are for night-by-night guests only.

• Implementing shelter options through the use of Pallet shelters in an adjacent parking lot. A city spokesperson recently told the Journal-World that though city staff had looked at the Lawrence Community Shelter property to see if the 25 Pallet shelters not slated to be installed on North Michigan Street might fit, no design or construction work related to installing them there had taken place.

• Establishing a community outreach and day center facility that provides “essential hygiene services such as bathrooms, showers and laundry facilities.”

• Ensuring single women and families with children have immediate access to low-barrier emergency shelter services.

• Collaborating with community partners to reduce Douglas County’s annual Point-in-Time count for unsheltered individuals by 50%. According to the numbers from this year’s count, which were only recently released, the county’s homeless population has increased by more than that amount — 51% — in just the last year.

Charlie Bryan, the president of the shelter’s board, said the list of directives stems from the last shelter board meeting, when board members had a study session to discuss them in more detail. That decision was a direct response to the expanded role of LCS in shouldering the emergency sheltering elements of the community’s strategic plan, Bryan told the Journal-World.

“The incoming executive director will serve as a pivotal force in driving positive change, ensuring that Lawrence Community Shelter remains a beacon of hope, offering essential resources, compassion and sustainable solutions to individuals facing homelessness in Lawrence and Douglas County,” the application description reads.

The application lists requirements like a minimum of five years of nonprofit leadership, financial management and supervision experience and requires at least a bachelor’s degree, but lists a graduate degree in fields like social work, public administration or nonprofit management as a preferred qualification.

Along with soliciting direct applications, the job listing also encourages people to nominate a “qualified individual who would excel in this role” for consideration.

The application is open through Nov. 28. Presumably, discussion about candidates could take place two days later at the shelter board’s next meeting, which is scheduled for Nov. 30.

• • •

The Journal-World reached out to the city Thursday afternoon to ask why some of these directives have not yet been part of any public dialogue and instead are showing up for the first time on the executive director application. City spokesperson Cori Wallace said initial discussions around the shelter’s potential scope of services took place with the shelter board once it shifted to a joint-governance model with the City of Lawrence and Douglas County. But Wallace also emphasized that the city had no role in the job listing, as the Lawrence Community Shelter is still an independent entity despite operating under its new shared-governance model.

What Wallace did tell the Journal-World was that the city has received two inquiries from nonprofit agencies interested in learning more about operating the Pallet community, one of which is the Lawrence Community Shelter. She said the “most substantive” conversations about operating the village have been with the shelter.

“… We have shared the suggested operating plan that we developed in partnership with the Pallet company or the Pallet organization and a number of different Pallet shelter operators nationally, there has been an operating plan developed and that operating plan will be shared with LCS so they can take a look at the suggested structure and function of the operating plan so they can determine if they are indeed the best operator for the village,” Wallace said. “That’s where we’re at in the conversation right now.”

Wallace said at this point, the city knows that the best practice is to have a third-party operator run a Pallet community, one that already offers services in the city and that has built existing relationships with the homeless population. She said she can’t speak to the shelter’s “appetite” for taking on the role of operator, but she did know shelter board members were willing to have a conversation about it and their curiosity about what an operating plan might look like.

As for why directives like this one and others are appearing in the director job listing rather than having been publicly discussed earlier, Wallace offered a few reasons. One of them is that the city has been trying to focus on conversations with immediate neighbors to the future Pallet Shelter Village in the Pinkney neighborhood. As city staff has maintained on more than one occasion recently, communicating regularly with those neighbors about progress on the project has been a priority.

Wallace said that notion is based, at least in part, on the idea that community members who reside closest to a project like the Pallet Shelter Village are naturally going to be the most affected given the project’s “ring of influence.”

“If I’m in that (closest) ring, what do I need to know and when do I need to know it, as opposed to a general reader or a concerned citizen?” Wallace said. “Both of those have equal value in terms of their need to hear information that’s accurate and true, and what we’re trying to do, I think, now is really speak to the needs of the people that have identified themselves or that we’ve identified as most immediately needing that information so they can go about their daily lives.”

Wallace said the city does plan to expand that scope of communication outward to the community at large in the next month and provide more insight about the Pallet community’s operating plan. In December, she said city staff plans to present at both the Lawrence Public Library Board of Trustees meeting slated for Monday, Dec. 18, and to the Lawrence chamber of commerce on Wednesday, Dec. 13. That’s where the community will hear and will be able to ask questions in a less formal environment than the Lawrence City Commission chambers about the city’s and county’s plans for addressing homelessness, Wallace said.

Wallace added that anyone who reaches out to her or the city’s Homeless Programs team will get a response within eight business hours, even if they’re asking questions city leaders may not have the answers to quite yet.


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