New Lawrence Community Shelter director gives updates on hiring plans for The Village, average daily guest count during winter emergency

photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

James Chiselom, the executive director at the Lawrence Community Shelter, speaks to the LCS Board of Directors during its meeting on Thursday, Jan. 25, 2024.

In his first few weeks on the job, James Chiselom — the new executive director at the Lawrence Community Shelter — has hit the ground running.

It’s been less than a month since Chiselom’s first day in the role, and he has already had to contend with a spell of freezing temperatures that kept the shelter packed with an influx of visitors. He gave the LCS Board of Directors an update on how the shelter navigated that period and more during the board’s meeting on Thursday.

That included some information about Chiselom’s plans for the immediate future at The Village, the community of 64-square-foot Pallet cabins for people experiencing homelessness at 256 N. Michigan St.

Chiselom said he soon plans to start posting job descriptions and hiring for staff positions, starting with a site manager, whom he said he’d like to have on board when looking at the lower-level staff they’d be supervising. He said he could have some candidates to share for some of The Village’s key positions by this time next month, and added that LCS has been looking at guests who may be good candidates to shift directly from the shelter to The Village.

As for the freezing temperatures from earlier this month, Chiselom said they resulted in an average daily guest count of 134 — and a single-night count that peaked at 162 on Jan. 13.

“One of the things that became (clear) during that two-week stretch … when people weren’t leaving the building because the temperature was way below 32, is that the shelter is barely manageable with that many people in the building at one time,” Chiselom told the board.

Nevertheless, Chiselom said LCS was still able to feed every guest three meals a day through that period. The shelter got some help when the City of Lawrence and other groups opened additional emergency sheltering locations later that week, providing a place to divert some people. Chiselom added that Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center crisis case managers were another boon in reducing behavioral incidents during that period.

The cold weather was simultaneously an opportunity to utilize an additional resource at LCS — the Monarch Village behind the building, which is made up of 12 tiny homes that have in the past been used to help the shelter with COVID distancing and to house individuals with complex needs.

There have been some maintenance issues with those units, Chiselom said, but city staff has helped identify ways to stay on top of them and repairs were being made in a couple of units earlier Thursday.

It’s looking like those units may not be the only additional sheltering options that LCS will have at its disposal moving forward. Chiselom said he had a meeting scheduled with city planning staff in early February to discuss a special use permit application for installing additional Pallet cabins on the shelter’s property.

As the Journal-World has reported, there are 45 more Pallet cabins that are unused following construction at The Village. Twenty-five of them are the remaining portion of the 75 cabins the city purchased in 2023, and the other 20 are a donation from a Kansas City nonprofit.

Chiselom outlined a couple of other goals moving forward, including his intent to begin presenting the LCS board with more detailed demographics of the people the shelter is serving. He’s also interested in working with the shelter’s case managers to highlight success stories of guests who have found housing.

Chiselom said he’s also concerned about “immediately” addressing cleanliness at LCS.

“We’re at a point now where that has to be one of the things that needs to be addressed immediately is the cleanliness of the shelter, in order to go forward with the programs that we’re talking about,” Chiselom said. “That’s a big concern of mine — the staff are all on board.”

• • •

In other business, the board:

* Unanimously approved three appointments to its Advisory Committee — Bella Kurtz, Emily Bauer and Jennifer Schneider. That committee is intended to advise and assist the board of directors and will select one or two members to attend board meetings as advisory, nonvoting guests. The board has received seven applications for that committee in total thus far.

Board member Christina Gentry, one of the board members tasked with evaluating applications for potential Advisory Committee members, said all three were strong candidates who bring lived experience and a “great understanding about equity and equality” to the table.

Applications for the committee are still open and will remain that way indefinitely, board member Elizabeth Keever said, to give more potential candidates the time to express their interest.

* Authorized Chiselom to offer an employee retention incentive of up to $5,000 to Melanie Valdez.

Valdez was Chiselom’s predecessor and had served as the interim leader of LCS since April 2022. What her role would be moving forward, however, wasn’t clear at Thursday’s meeting. Those details were discussed in an executive session, after which the board approved that authorization.

Valdez was initially hired as the shelter’s director of finance and operations in September 2021.


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