Lawrence Community Shelter moving to shared governance model with City of Lawrence, Douglas County
photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World
Updated at 5:20 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 6
The City of Lawrence, Douglas County and the Lawrence Community Shelter are moving to a shared governance model, the city announced Wednesday, and a city official confirmed to the Journal-World that the shelter will be receiving more funding from the city as part of the deal.
According to a news release, the city and county are working closely with the LCS board of directors to create a transition plan over the next 30 days and will keep the community updated on that progress. In the meantime, there won’t be a pause or adjustment in services at the shelter as the transition takes place.
As part of the shift, the LCS board will amend its bylaws so it can restructure; the restructured group will include seven members, with three appointed by the Lawrence City Commission, two appointed by the Douglas County Commission and two appointed by the existing LCS board.
“We are thrilled to announce this important agreement with the City of Lawrence and Douglas County to restructure our governance model,” LCS board president Charlie Bryan said in the release. “At the Lawrence Community Shelter, we recognize our responsibility to the public, and this new framework will enhance our accountability. We look forward to continuing our mission of providing essential services to our community with renewed dedication and transparency.”
The shift comes about two months after LCS Interim Executive Director Melanie Valdez sent an “urgent appeal” to supporters via email asking for support to sustain the shelter’s services. A week later, Valdez told the Journal-World that the shelter’s funds were well short of the roughly $1.6 million per year it needs to keep running and the shelter was “just barely getting by.”
According to Assistant City Manager Brandon McGuire, it seems that the city is working to avoid any similar funding challenges next year. McGuire confirmed to the Journal-World late Wednesday afternoon that the city’s 2024 budget, which the Lawrence City Commission adopted Tuesday, includes not only the city’s usual $296,000 in annual funding support for the shelter from its Special Alcohol Fund but also $2 million in new funding from the city’s General Fund for emergency sheltering capacity development.
“Lawrence Community Shelter is a natural partner in our efforts to increase sheltering capacity and the shift to shared governance was proposed in anticipation of increased city funding,” McGuire told the Journal-World.
McGuire said Douglas County, meanwhile, is leading development of “other important pieces of the homelessness response system” and plans to maintain its current level of funding for the shelter. The county also contributes $296,000 in annual funding support to the shelter, and county spokesperson Karrey Britt confirmed to the Journal-World Wednesday afternoon that the same level of funding is reflected in the county’s 2024 budget.
Bryan told the Journal-World earlier in the afternoon that while the work to develop a transition plan will be focused on the shelter’s board restructuring, the projected budget deficit for 2023 “will likely also need to be addressed.” Bryan also said the decision to move to the new governance model is a direct result of the shelter’s recent funding challenges, with discussion about the change having been in progress for just the past couple of weeks.
Bryan and Valdez confirmed some details about the shelter’s capacity, as well. Bryan said the shelter’s current capacity remains at 125 and Valdez said 82 people have been staying there on average lately. Since March, about 25 of the 125 available 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.
City spokesperson Cori Wallace told the Journal-World that the city doesn’t have any intentions of increasing the shelter’s capacity beyond 125 slots, but rather is hopeful that the shift in governance structure will allow the shelter to get closer to serving that maximum capacity on any given day. McGuire added that additional sheltering capacity is needed in the community, and the improvement to the city’s partnership with the shelter — as well as the development of the city’s planned Pallet Shelter Village at 256 N. Michigan St. — are two initiatives that will help meet that need.
The city notes in the release that the combined impact of city resources and direct service expertise at the shelter will enhance the overall effectiveness of emergency sheltering in Douglas County. Misty Bosch-Hastings, the city’s homeless programs coordinator, said the city strongly believed in the shelter’s work thus far and that the city could provide additional resources that could help it assist even more people.
According to the release, the shift to a shared governance model mirrors the structure of other institutions in the community like LMH Health, the Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority and Peaslee Tech; all of those entities operate with boards appointed via a similar structure.
In addition to the shelter, the city has been operating a support site for people experiencing homelessness — now known as “Camp New Beginnings” — in North Lawrence for nearly a year.