Lawrence leaders to hear updates on homeless camp closure, Pallet Village and more

photo by: Kim Callahan/Journal-World

The site of Camp New Beginnings is pictured after it was cleared on Monday, March 18, 2024, and the fence was removed. The tents in the background belong to campers in an unsanctioned camp for people experiencing homelessness.

Lawrence leaders on Tuesday are set to hear updates about a variety of developments related to homelessness, from the opening of the Lawrence Community Shelter’s community of 64-square-foot Pallet cabins and coinciding closure of homeless camps in North Lawrence to a recent increase in police presence in downtown Lawrence.

Here’s a summary of the updates the Lawrence City Commission will expect to hear more about at its Tuesday meeting.

Opening The Village and closing camps

It’s been a busy past week on this front, as the Journal-World has reported. Lawrence Community Shelter leaders announced last week that the first residents at The Village, 256 N. Michigan St., would begin moving in on March 18. A few days later, city staff detailed plans to close the city-sanctioned support site for people experiencing homelessness in North Lawrence, Camp New Beginnings, on the same day. The city on Monday was busy dismantling tents and clearing items from the camp behind Johnny’s Tavern at 100 Maple St.

photo by: Kim Callahan/Journal-World

City crews began dismantling the city-supported site for homeless individuals Monday, March 18, 2024, in North Lawrence.

Agenda materials for Tuesday’s meeting provide a bit more background on both topics. For example, the first guests at The Village are all individuals who have been residing at Camp New Beginnings, the agenda notes, along with several others who have been camping either in an unsanctioned area around the city-sanctioned camp or other nearby sites that will make up the rest of the population moving in by March 27. The agenda notes that this will reduce the population of people camping in the area of the former city-sanctioned campsite by half.

After that, approximately 25 remaining individuals in the area will be supported by city staff, advocates and service providers as they work to access shelter by April 15. The city will continue to provide electricity, drinking water and food to those individuals during the transition, the agenda notes, and a city spokesperson previously told the Journal-World that group will also have access to a portable restroom. The restroom isn’t mentioned in Tuesday’s meeting agenda.

As the Journal-World reported, the city said last week that April 15 is the first day that camping will no longer be allowed in Lawrence’s “Central Business District.” According to a map a city spokesperson provided to the Journal-World last week, that description applies to the area Camp New Beginnings has been located on along the Kansas River levee trail, the Riverfront Mall area up to the intersection of the railroad tracks with New York Street, and the entire downtown area surrounding Massachusetts Street.

photo by: City of Lawrence screenshot

The areas highlighted in blue on this map, taken from the City of Lawrence’s interactive mapping software, are within the city’s “Central Business District.” Camping will no longer be allowed in these areas starting April 15, according to City of Lawrence staff.

“Following closure of the North Lawrence Central Business District camps, we will be able to work in other camps to connect people to shelter and wind down camping based on available sheltering capacity, focusing first on the larger more prominent campsites then moving to the dozens of smaller camps across the community,” the agenda reads. “We will continue building capacity in sheltering, outreach and supportive services with the goal of connecting people with campsites to safe shelter and services that enable them to access housing.”

Downtown police presence

Some new information of note coming as part of Tuesday’s updates is related to the Lawrence Police Department’s recent implementation of a dedicated downtown foot patrol, which the LPD had previously planned to provide beginning in April thanks to dedicated funding in the city’s 2024 budget.

Tuesday’s meeting agenda notes that previous downtown foot patrol through the LPD was handled on a volunteer basis as an overtime assignment, but recent public safety incidents led to the patrol being added earlier than anticipated during the week of March 11.

“The new downtown foot patrol includes two officers working 40 hours per week,” the agenda reads. “Schedules will be flexible to allow these officers to adjust to needs and trends. As staffing allows, LPD will provide additional officers on foot and bike patrol downtown and in surrounding areas.”

The agenda also notes that the LPD is working to establish a permanent satellite office in the former Lawrence Transit office space at 933 New Hampshire St., while operating out of a temporary space for the time being.

Homeless Response Team

Finally, Tuesday’s agenda also includes an update on efforts by the city’s Homeless Solutions Division to form a multidisciplinary homeless response team. The agenda notes that a more comprehensive presentation on the new team is planned for April.

For now, city commissioners will get a brief overview of the team, which will apparently consist of subject matter experts like mental health care, emergency shelter and physical health care providers; specialists in substance use disorders and peer support; and a law enforcement officer. According to the agenda, the team will conduct street outreach five days a week and engage in on-call services as needed.

In other business, commissioners will:

• As part of the meeting’s consent agenda, consider granting final approval to a few ordinances on second reading, including Ordinance No. 10027 establishing a Neighborhood Revitalization Area at 900 Rhode Island St. for the Turnhalle project and Ordinance No. 10028, a special use permit for Family Promise’s family homeless shelter at 200 Mount Hope Court.

• As part of the meeting’s consent agenda, consider granting final approval for eight rezoning requests for the New Boston Crossing project.

At the City Commission’s last meeting, commissioners gave initial approval for the requests, which are a necessary part of the process for the 177-acre project looking to add hundreds of homes and thousands of square feet of retail and hotel space along the South Lawrence Trafficway. The majority of those requests needed approval from a supermajority of commissioners to advance earlier this month due to a previous recommendation for denial from the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission, largely hinging on the project area’s partial overlap with the Wakarusa River floodplain.

• As part of the meeting’s consent agenda, consider authorizing City Manager Craig Owens to execute a memorandum of understanding with Douglas County detailing both parties’ obligations for participation in the Kansas Department of Transportation’s South Lawrence Trafficway west leg expansion project.

The city and Douglas County in 2022 committed $7 million each to KDOT as a local match for the South Lawrence Trafficway expansion project. That included a city contribution to extend Wakarusa Drive south to North 1000 Road, which by itself has an estimated cost of $3.6 million. But city leaders soon after pulled back from participating in the project and last year said they’d instead be willing to provide the $3.6 million for other projects.

According to Tuesday’s meeting agenda, the new memorandum of understanding establishes the exchange it’ll take for the county to fully fund the Wakarusa Drive extension and satisfy the requisite $14 million local match that KDOT requires of the city and county. That includes a number of alternative local roadway projects to be paid for with nearly $3.7 million in city funds.

The city instead plans for that money to be used for projects like property acquisitions and the annexation of a portion of 31st Street north of Kansas Highway 10. The bulk of the funds that otherwise would’ve been spent on the Wakarusa Drive extension — $2.2 million — will go toward releasing the county from its obligation to participate in future improvement districts near the Douglas County Jail and Douglas County Public Works Building on East 25th Street.

• As part of a work session, hear an update from a consulting team about community engagement and survey results related to the city’s Parks, Recreation, Arts and Culture Comprehensive Plan.

The Lawrence City Commission will convene at 5 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St., then immediately recess for a 30-minute closed executive session. A live stream of the meeting can be viewed via Zoom or the city’s YouTube channel.


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