In letter, shelter leaders acknowledge ‘devastating consequences’ of homelessness after recent deaths, urge advocacy for affordable housing, services

photo by: Shawn Valverde

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

Leaders with the Lawrence Community Shelter on Thursday released a letter acknowledging the “devastating consequences of homelessness in our community” in the wake of several recent deaths.

As the Journal-World has reported, deaths among people experiencing homelessness have mounted to at least eight in less than two years. That includes two especially recent deaths — the fatal stabbing of 51-year-old Crystal White near the city-supported Camp New Beginnings in North Lawrence on Feb. 22 and, more recently, the March 6 shooting across the street from the Lawrence Public Library that left 39-year-old Vincent Lee Walker dead.

“The losses are deeply felt by both our unhoused and housed community members who have lost friends or family,” the letter from LCS Executive Director James Chiselom and Director of Community Engagement Lacee Roe reads. “As social workers, we often don’t have time to grieve these tragedies ourselves as we remain focused on helping others.”

Continuing that work as lives are lost due to preventable circumstances, as the letter puts it, takes a toll on the shelter’s front-line staff. The letter says each loss is not just a statistic but “a human life, a story cut short and a community member who deserved better.”

The letter adds that those recent deaths serve as a stark reminder of the urgent need for compassionate and proactive solutions to address the homeless crisis, which it states has been brought about by systemic failures.

“Our unhoused neighbors face unimaginable risks every day — from exposure to violence and the elements to untreated addiction and mental illness, and the burden of chronic health conditions with limited access to healthcare,” the letter reads. “These challenges, compounded by the trauma of living without stable housing, create a cycle of despair that is difficult to break.”

The letter calls on community members to confront the “uncomfortable truths” about homelessness and work together to address its root causes. It also acknowledges that there is hope in the power of collective action, compassion and generosity of people in Lawrence.

The letter also lists one specific way to address those systemic failures: advocating for policies that prioritize affordable housing, access to health care and comprehensive supportive services for individuals experiencing homelessness.

“Together we can create a community where every individual is valued, supported and empowered to live with dignity and hope,” the letter reads. “Let us honor the memories of those we have lost by committing ourselves to building a future where homelessness is not just a crisis to be managed but an injustice to be eradicated.”


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