Lawrence leaders hear update on homelessness efforts — and more than an hour of public comments

photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

Misty Bosch-Hastings, the City of Lawrence's director of homeless solutions, presents to the Lawrence City Commission during its meeting on Tuesday, March 19, 2024.

Lawrence leaders on Tuesday were given an update on a number of efforts related to homelessness, including the opening of the Lawrence Community Shelter’s village of 64-square-foot Pallet cabins and the coinciding closure of homeless camps in North Lawrence.

Those updates were part of a presentation from city staff at Tuesday’s Lawrence City Commission meeting. The meeting fell a day after the first residents began moving into The Village at 256 N. Michigan St. and, simultaneously, the closure of the city-sanctioned support site for people experiencing homelessness, Camp New Beginnings.

“As commissioners have said and as (Mayor Bart Littlejohn) has said, this is difficult work and it’s going to continue to be difficult work,” Commissioner Amber Sellers said. “It’s going to be difficult work because we’re filling a big gap, and until we can acknowledge that we’re filling a gap that — this country and this state and legislators, elected officials, all of us — we’ve failed. And now we’re trying to reconcile that failure.”

While commissioners had a few questions related to the presentation, which also detailed the Lawrence Police Department’s new dedicated foot patrol in downtown Lawrence, much of the talk about homelessness at Tuesday’s meeting came during the nearly hour and a half of public comments on the topic.

A few members of the group of around 30 commenters identified themselves as unhoused, some of them living at the unsanctioned homeless camp located in North Lawrence behind Johnny’s Tavern. They called that camp “Tent City,” distinct from the city-sanctioned support site that was located directly next to it until Monday.

Some of that group — and other commenters — also spoke about how the additional options available to unhoused people right now aren’t sufficient and can’t be utilized by everyone in need of shelter.

The presentation from city staff said that the additional capacity at the Lawrence Community Shelter — up to 175 beds — along with the 50 cabins available at The Village have cleared the way for the city to begin closing sites like Camp New Beginnings. But even that number of available emergency shelter spaces is still about 100 lower than the point-in-time count of people experiencing homelessness on a particular night in January 2023. The number from the 2024 count conducted a few months ago has yet to be released, and advocates have previously said that the count likely underrepresents the actual number of unhoused people in a community.

Other commenters criticized Lawrence Cares, a nonprofit focused on addressing homeless issues formed by a group of downtown Lawrence business owners. A few of them specifically said the group “dehumanizes” unhoused people.

One member of the nonprofit’s steering committee who spoke during public comment, former city commissioner and restaurant operator Bob Schumm, described what he saw as “lawlessness” throughout the city.

In other business, commissioners:

* Recognized Lynette Woodard, a record-setting basketball player for the University of Kansas from 1978 to 1981 who for 43 years was the all-time scoring leader in major women’s college basketball — a record only recently surpassed by the University of Iowa’s Caitlin Clark.

Woodard was present at Tuesday’s meeting to receive the recognition, and she spoke about how proud she is to be a Kansan.

photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

Lynette Woodard, the prolific former University of Kansas basketball player who was the all-time scoring leader in women’s college basketball for 43 years, makes her way to the podium while being recognized at the Lawrence City Commission meeting on Tuesday, March 19, 2024.

“This is a special evening,” Woodard said. “I just thank you — my heart is full. … I’m always going to be one that’s going to stand and fight for the rights of not only myself but others. I’m fighting for justice, fairness, everywhere I go and whatever I do.”

Sellers, who like Woodard is a Wichita native and KU alumna, introduced the recognition by saying how much of a role model Woodard was to her and others.

* As part of the meeting’s consent agenda, granted final approval for 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, authorized City Manager Craig Owens to execute a memorandum of understanding with Douglas County that would adjust the city’s planned funding commitment to the Kansas Department of Transportation’s South Lawrence Trafficway west leg expansion project. Instead of funding a $3.6 million extension of Wakarusa Drive south to North 1000 Road, the city will put those funds toward other projects that satisfy KDOT’s local match requirement for the larger SLT project.

* Granted final approval to eight rezoning requests for the New Boston Crossing project.


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