Homeless Programs coordinator says recent changes at Lawrence Community Shelter will go a long way toward unraveling uncertainties around homeless initiatives

photo by: City of Lawrence screenshot

Homeless Programs Coordinator Misty Bosch-Hastings speaks to the Lawrence City Commission during its meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2023.

Many uncertainties exist regarding the City of Lawrence’s homeless initiatives, but one city leader is hoping that recent changes at the Lawrence Community Shelter will play a key role in unraveling them.

Homeless Programs Coordinator Misty Bosch-Hastings spoke with the Journal-World Thursday about what role the city plays in keeping the community apprised of progress with projects like the planned Pallet Shelter Village at 256 N. Michigan St. Bosch-Hastings said detailed information has been coming in a drip-feed lately for one key reason: The city wants any plans it shares to be completely certain first.

“I think the issue is there’s just so many uncertainties,” Bosch-Hastings said. “There’s just so many uncertainties, and until we’re certain of what’s happening, we have no business talking to the community about it.”

Bosch-Hastings said that mindset is the result of many “system breakdowns” in the city’s network of resources for the homeless population. But she said recent changes at the Lawrence Community Shelter — like a shift to a shared-governance model with the City of Lawrence and Douglas County — will go a long way toward repairing them.

“I think what I hope for with all of that is a renewed sense of trust in what LCS is going to be able to do for the unsheltered community,” Bosch-Hastings said. “It’s going to be a huge starting point for us ending chronic homelessness.”

Along with that comes an emphasis on the shelter, not the city, leading the way when it comes to existing and future programs and initiatives. The question of who will operate the winter emergency shelter and a community of Pallet cabins — which the city has named “The Village” — are two notable examples of that shift.

For winter emergency sheltering, that question is answered in the city’s amended funding agreement with LCS, which granted $150,000 in additional funding support when it was approved in mid-October. One of the stipulations of that agreement is that the shelter will increase its total capacity when outdoor temperatures are 40 degrees or below and guests will be allowed to remain at the shelter as long as that weather persists, rather than having to leave the shelter between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.

The prospect of LCS running The Village, meanwhile, was initiated by the shelter’s board and last week was included on the list of “immediate priorities and future opportunities” for the facility’s next executive director. The city has previously told the Journal-World that the most substantive conversations about operating The Village have been with the shelter, and Bosch-Hastings said Thursday that those conversations are still ongoing.

Part of the reason for that shift, Bosch-Hastings said, is that city leaders have realized they shouldn’t be the ones providing direct-service support to unhoused people, even if their previous efforts have been well-intentioned.

“We’re not qualified to do direct-service, and this is a direct-service environment,” Bosch-Hastings said. “We are qualified to support individuals that are doing direct-service, but we kind of learned from Camp New Beginnings (the city-supported camp in North Lawrence) that this is something that needs to be handled by the experts.”

But for now there isn’t a full agreement between the city and LCS, and Bosch-Hastings said that makes it “tricky” to navigate when it comes to sharing details with the community about what comes next. She said there are three board members working with her and the shelter’s interim executive director, Melanie Valdez, on an operations plan for LCS, and the city has completed operations and staffing plans for Pallet, the company supplying the cabins for The Village.

When those plans might be disseminated beyond LCS board members and neighbors to The Village in the Pinkney neighborhood is still up in the air. Bosch-Hastings said it’s likely that hinges on the LCS director hire. Whether the city will provide the shelter with additional funding support does, too; Bosch-Hastings said another addendum to the LCS funding agreement would be initiated once the shelter presents that operations plan and indicates how much it’ll cost to execute.

That doesn’t mean the city is going to be completely hands-off, though. Bosch-Hastings said although city staff haven’t paid a visit to the closest Pallet shelter community to Lawrence in Fayetteville, Arkansas, she has spoken directly with the director of that community, Solomon Burchfield, who has shared operational documents from that project with the city.

And city staff has since reached out to communities like Madison, Wisconsin, another city that’s been home to a Pallet community since 2021. City staff members like homeless programs project specialist Cicely Thornton and Emergency Medical Services division chief Kevin Joles have also taken trips to upstate New York and New Jersey to look at other similar emergency shelter communities.

Bosch-Hastings also said that no matter when LCS hires its next director, the city will play a role in supporting its winter emergency sheltering efforts. The city has already been involved in planning ahead for when inclement weather inevitably hits Lawrence.

“We’re all working together to support that and making sure that’s successful,” Bosch-Hastings said. “As far as a new director being in place before that happens, we’re just keeping people alive. That’s pretty basic stuff that the shelter already knows how to do with the staff they have right now.”


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