With big and small renovations in the works, Lawrence Community Shelter director wants to give guests more comfort and dignity

photo by: Shawn Valverde

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

Lie back on one of the beds for night-by-night guests in the Lawrence Community Shelter and look up.

What you might see is a grid of reddish support beams; long industrial light fixtures; pipes and wires that stand out against the gray ceiling. There’s corrugated metal on the walls; a concrete floor, with bright yellow posts occasionally jutting out; and a huge, truck-sized garage door.

That’s because this part of the shelter where about 50 of its night-by-night beds are located wasn’t originally used to house people at all. It was originally a storage area, but now it’s home to those several dozen beds for short-term stays.

This situation illustrates one of the problems that the shelter’s new executive director, James Chiselom, is intent on addressing — that the facility at 3655 E. 25th St. doesn’t look like a place where people would live.

“If this is the only place people have, it’s my job to make sure it’s a place that I would live, so that’s my goal,” Chiselom told the Journal-World Tuesday.

photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

Once used as a storage space, the warehouse area at the Lawrence Community Shelter is now filled predominantly with about 50 beds for night-by-night guests.

That’s why one of Chiselom’s projects in his first few months on the job has been a series of renovations and improvements big and small — from deep cleaning and new coats of paint to, Chiselom hopes, more places for guests to store their belongings, more shower facilities, and even a dog run for guests’ pets.

Chiselom invited the Journal-World to visit the shelter this past week for a tour of the recent improvements and a discussion on the more extensive work that’s yet to come.

• • •

Small-scale improvements at LCS have already been going on for the past several months, Chiselom said. Much of that work has involved deep cleaning in the hard-to-reach spaces that are typical of a building of this scale.

But there have also been more visible changes to the spaces that guests rely on every day. For instance, the cafeteria, which recently expanded to serving three meals a day, got a fresh coat of paint to go along with its deep cleaning.

Another area that’s gotten some new paint and improvements is the part of the shelter reserved for guests in the 90-day continuous stay program. There are currently around 30 people participating in the 90-day program; two participants recently exited, allowing the shelter to turn to its program wait list for a new set of continuous-stay guests. Probably the most significant update at the shelter so far happened in the restrooms for 90-day guests, which have been painted, cleaned and re-tiled.

“Those are the little things that go a long way when you want people to have comfort that they have dignity where they’re at,” Chiselom said.

photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

Restrooms at the Lawrence Community Shelter were recently painted, cleaned and re-tiled.

photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

This space, currently located in one of the Lawrence Community Shelter’s intake areas, is being converted into a common area for guest in the 90-day continuous stay program.

Near the 90-day program area is an intake area for night-by-night shelter guests. This area too will be re-tiled, Chiselom said, but he also wants to use it for more amenities for the 90-day guests. The space contains a kitchenette, and Chiselom envisions using it as a common area for the 90-day program participants where they can cook, eat and store food in a shared fridge.

Having a space like that will make a difference in preventing a standing pest issue at the shelter. Some storage areas where food is left out have led to infestations of mice, which Chiselom said is a situation that’s improved recently.

But the largest-scale changes are still a ways down the road, and some of them depend on getting the proper approvals and permits from city government. Chiselom said he’s currently working on a special use permit to construct a second-floor mezzanine in the shelter’s former warehouse area that can serve as additional storage space for guests’ belongings.

The space he’s referring to used to function almost entirely as a storage area. It was filled with shelving that held donated items guests might take with them when leaving the shelter for more permanent housing, as well as furniture items for the same purpose. Now, it’s filled with the roughly 50 beds for night-by-night shelter guests, with a smaller storage area in the back for shelter supplies and guests’ personal items. Some other night-by-night beds are available in an overflow space on the opposite side of the shelter.

photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

A second-floor mezzanine to be used as additional storage space could be installed in this area of the Lawrence Community Shelter’s warehouse space.

Other plans for the warehouse area of the shelter include adding shower facilities for night-by-night guests to use — the restrooms in that part of the shelter have no showers and haven’t been re-tiled yet.

“My job is to … make this place feel like it’s secure, (let) people know that we have a mission in hand and we’re working to accomplish our mission,” Chiselom said.

• • •

Improvements are on the list for outside the building, too. Chiselom said he wants the special use permit he’s working on to cover the installation of about 30 64-square-foot Pallet cabins behind the building.

The cabins are left over from The Village, a community of 50 Pallet cabins for people experiencing homelessness that the shelter now operates at 256 N. Michigan St. Chiselom and other people associated with The Village had previously mentioned that they wanted to install the leftover cabins on the main Lawrence Community Shelter property.

There are already some tiny living units behind the building that predate the Pallet cabin purchase — the Monarch Village units, which were used for isolation and distancing purposes during the COVID-19 pandemic and are now typically reserved for guests with complex needs and difficulties with living in the congregate setting inside of the shelter. These units are currently undergoing some maintenance, Chiselom said.

And near the edge of the property, Chiselom said there might soon be an amenity for guests’ pets. He said a volunteer from the University of Kansas has offered to install a dog run that could be used by guests who bring their animals with them to the shelter.

All of the improvements Chiselom told the Journal-World about are in line with how he feels the shelter ought to operate — first, he said, he should be sure the shelter is doing what it needs to do, and once that’s certain, it can enhance the way that work takes place.

“I see the possibilities, and I would tell anybody listening that this is going to be a wonderful place,” Chiselom said. “It’s wonderful now, and I can feel the changes — not only see it, but you can feel with the tone of our staff, the tone of our guests, and just what are they seeing? What’s resonating? It’s hopeful.”

photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

The area near the fence pictured here is slated to be converted into a dog run behind the Lawrence Community Shelter.

photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

James Chiselom, the executive director at the Lawrence Community Shelter, stands at the edge of a parking lot area behind the shelter where a group of around 30 Pallet cabins could eventually be installed for additional emergency sheltering space.

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