Lawrence City Commission approves funding agreements related to new Homeless Response Team

photo by: Rochelle Valverde/Journal-World

Lawrence City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St., is pictured on Jan. 31, 2023.

Late Tuesday night, the Lawrence City Commission signed off on a pair of funding agreements related to the launch of a new multidisciplinary homeless outreach team.

At Tuesday’s City Commission meeting, the group voted 3-1 — with Commissioner Amber Sellers opposed after citing concerns regarding reporting and execution on the scope of the group’s work, and Commissioner Brad Finkeldei abstaining because one of the funding agreements is related to Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center, where his wife is employed — to approve funding agreements with Bert Nash for $412,098 and Mirror Inc. for $37,500 for their services as part of the city’s Homeless Response Team.

Both allocations would come from the city’s Special Alcohol Fund, where funds specific to covering the roughly $450,000 total expenditure were included in the city’s 2024 budget.

“I really appreciate the work that (Director of Homeless Solutions Misty Bosch-Hastings) and (Homeless Programs Project Specialist Cicely Thornton) and everybody’s doing — I think we’ve got a great team, and we’re making a lot of progress,” Commissioner Lisa Larsen said. “We just need to make sure we are ensuring that we are getting what we’re paying for, as well as just the conversation tonight, how complicated this work is. I appreciate your work on that.”

As the Journal-World has reported, Bosch-Hastings has been working to establish the group for a while now. The team will include eight partners, including the City of Lawrence and the Lawrence Police Department. Other organizations on the list include Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center, the DARE Center, Artists Helping the Homeless, Mirror Inc., the Lawrence Community Shelter and the Lawrence Humane Society.

Bosch-Hastings told commissioners the team represents a “new approach” to addressing homelessness in Lawrence and Douglas County, prioritizing collaboration, comprehensive support and proactive outreach with an emphasis on “meeting people where they are.”

“By bringing together professionals from various fields and leveraging support of organizations like Douglas County, we are well-equipped to address the diverse needs of individuals experiencing homelessness in our community,” Bosch-Hastings said.

The DARE Center also needs a funding agreement with the city, which would utilize opioid settlement funds. A spending plan for the funds will be presented to commissioners for their consideration at an upcoming meeting.

Commissioners still had more work to take care of following their vote on the Homeless Response Team funding agreements. They also received an update on the city’s partnership with the Harvard Kennedy School Government Performance Lab as part of a work session.

Lawrence and Douglas County are part of a group of 14 metro areas selected to participate in the Government Performance Lab, focused on developing alternative responses to 911 emergency calls.

Commissioners learned that the city and county may be ready to implement alternative 911 response strategies by June.

Also remaining on the agenda as the meeting neared 11 p.m. was the new time slot for the meeting’s general public comment period.

As the Journal-World reported, commissioners last week approved changes to their meeting procedures that, in part, moved the period of the meeting reserved for comments on items not scheduled for discussion on the regular agenda but germane to city business near the end of the weekly meeting agenda.

The period previously took place earlier in the agenda, typically starting before 6:30 p.m. Tuesday’s meeting was the first time since last week’s changes that it’s been scheduled in its new location, between the city manager’s report and commission items as the ninth item on the 12-item agenda order.

A few people who spoke during the period on Tuesday said that the new agenda order makes it harder for people to participate in general public comment if a meeting runs as late as this week’s did. One attendee voiced a desire to speak on a topic unrelated to the city’s agenda items earlier in the meeting but was asked to leave after repeatedly trying to give those comments during discussion on the meeting’s agenda items.


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