Potential Pallet residents to tour facility next week; LCS working toward replacing night-by-night program with 30-day stays

photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

Members of the Lawrence Community Shelter Board of Directors listen to a report from LCS Executive Director James Chiselom during the board's meeting on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024.

Next week, the first group of residents who could end up living in Lawrence’s community of Pallet shelters for individuals experiencing homelessness will visit their potential new homes for the first time.

At Thursday’s Lawrence Community Shelter Board of Directors meeting, LCS Executive Director James Chiselom gave board members a brief update on progress at The Village, the community of 64-square-foot Pallet cabins for people experiencing homelessness at 256 N. Michigan St., and said the shelter will interview 35 potential guests next week. That group will also tour the facility, learn more about requirements for residents and sit down with case managers to determine what their first steps might look like.

It’s the latest step in opening the community, a process the Lawrence City Commission initiated almost a year ago in an effort to quickly find an emergency housing solution for unhoused people living in campsites — both city-supported and unsanctioned — around the city.

“One of the things I did identify is that even if we have 35 guests identified, we’re going to have to stagger the entry to The Village,” Chiselom told the board Thursday. “I don’t know what ratio I’m going to use, but we don’t want 35 people all in at one day.”

Earlier this month on Feb. 2, Chiselom estimated that The Village may be ready to accept residents within 30 to 45 days. It’s now been nearly three weeks since then, and at Thursday’s meeting he didn’t mention whether that timeline still seems feasible.

But Chiselom did reassert that The Village’s opening date would depend on the success of the hiring process for the staff who will run it. Chiselom said he spent Wednesday and Thursday interviewing applicants for the community’s manager position and feels good about the applicant pool. He added that many applicants applied for multiple positions, meaning that LCS will be able to circle back with applicants not selected for certain roles for a quicker hiring process.

As the Journal-World has reported, plans call for The Village to prioritize vulnerable groups, including veterans, the elderly, women without children emerging from domestic violence situations and individuals with disabilities who require specialized support and care.

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Beyond progress at The Village, Chiselom’s report to board members Thursday involved providing them with more detailed demographic data about the people the shelter is serving, a goal he said he wanted to achieve last time the board met.

The data, collected for 221 unique night-by-night visitors and the 45 unique shelter guests participating in its 90-day program during the month of January, provided information about things like guests’ age, gender, race and ethnicity, veteran status and more. But Chiselom said he wants to bolster the quality of data he’s able to gather by replacing night-by-night stays — which require guests to leave the LCS facility every morning and return later that evening in order to stay overnight — with a 30-day program instead.

“That idea around lengthening the time that people should spend sheltered gives them some sense of ownership, it gives us some more time to develop relationships with people and to understand what some of their barriers are,” Chiselom said. “It’s hard to do that if somebody’s coming today and they’re leaving in the morning.”

At one point, Chiselom called night-by-night stays in their current form a “horrible” idea because of the difficulty it poses for building relationships with guests. He later said a 30-day program, or any sort of opportunity for a longer stay, is a better alternative for people who want it — specifically, people who aren’t yet ready to engage in any case management programming.

That way, Chiselom said, guests might feel like they have more time to prepare without worrying about what they’ll do during the day.

“What I hope to happen is during that 30 days, we can impact on someone that we’re here to help and this is a good place to get that help,” Chiselom said. “It gives them time to relax and kind of address some of the trauma, to be settled, to have a place to settle.”

It’d also help LCS to gather better data about who’s staying there, he said. The demographic data presented Thursday included much more specific information about guests in the 90-day program, including how many of them have a disability and whether they have a substance use disorder. Chiselom noted that the information is self-reported, though, so while 75% of those respondents said they did not have a substance use disorder, he believes the actual number to be higher.

That doesn’t necessarily mean there won’t be any space for a night-by-night program, though. Chiselom also told board members he’s envisioning that an additional set of 45 unused Pallet cabins slated to be installed on the shelter’s property could become the option for purely night-by-night guests. He said he’s still working with city planning staff on a special use permit application for those units.

The number that could be installed has dropped from the entire set of 45 to just 32 units, though, and Chiselom said that’s because of Douglas County officials’ concerns that the Pallet shelter footprint could spill onto county property. He said 32 units would fit on the LCS property while still allowing room for another office space and restrooms for night-by-night guests.

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Other notable updates from Chiselom included that he’s instituted a “zero-tolerance” policy for guests who make violent threats or use drugs and alcohol inside the building. He said those who do drugs there are now asked to leave, and those people are asked to receive an assessment from Heartland RADAC to determine their level of substance abuse and comply with the organization’s recommendations.

“That serves a dual purpose — it shows people that we’re not exiting you because we don’t care about you, we’re exiting you because your behavior needs some attention,” Chiselom said.


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