Swell of donations helps find housing for some, but homeless shelter still expects to force about 25 people to leave Friday
photo by: Jackson Barton
While a recent swell of community support has helped find housing for some people who will soon be forced to leave the local homeless shelter, shelter leaders still expect at least 25 people will have no place to sleep come Friday night.
On Friday afternoon, the Lawrence Community Shelter, which also provides guests three daily meals, will reduce its capacity by about half, from 125 to 65 people. The shelter stopped accepting new guests on Aug. 8 in an attempt to decrease the number of people it must force to leave Friday and has been trying to find alternate arrangements for guests, but shelter board president Thea Perry said 25 to 30 people still have nowhere to go.
The shelter is reducing its capacity due to a funding shortfall of hundreds of thousands of dollars and changes to what the shelter considers safe staffing levels, as the Journal-World previously reported. Both the City of Lawrence and Douglas County significantly increased their funding levels for the shelter for 2019 and 2020, but not as much as the shelter said it needed.
Community groups and local businesses have raised thousands of dollars in recent days to support the shelter, which has helped find living arrangements and other support for some of those people who must soon leave. Perry said the community support has been wonderful to see. She said those who have worked with the homeless for years sometimes feel like they are the only ones doing it, but that the recent support reminds them that a lot of people care and want to help.
“People that we never even knew were supporters of the shelter or the homeless community are calling and reaching out,” Perry said. “And it reminds all of us how important it is that this is a communitywide effort and that we really are ready to have a community response.”
Other social service organizations have also been preparing to assist the people who will no longer be receiving meals and lodging at the shelter. The Ballard Community Center, which provides a clothing and food pantry, put out an online call for additional supplies and has received various donations from local businesses, including clothing, food and toiletries.
As the Journal-World previously reported, the Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center Homeless Outreach Team also had a campaign to raise money and supplies to support those who will be forced to leave the shelter. Bert Nash Homeless Outreach Program Manager Mathew Faulk said that campaign has raised $2,625. Faulk said those who want to continue to provide assistance specifically to the Lawrence Community Shelter can send those donations directly to the shelter.
Still, the impact of the capacity reduction is already being felt by some. Perry said that the shelter has not tracked how many people have had to be turned away since it stopped taking new guests Aug. 8, but the Journal-World recently reported that some of those people turned away were resorting to sleeping outdoors.
Perry has previously said the shelter’s 65 spots will go first to families and then to the shelter’s most vulnerable guests, such as older guests or those with physical or mental health issues. Since making the decision to reduce capacity, the shelter has been trying to find alternative arrangements for as many guests as possible.
The shelter has succeeded in finding arrangements for 29 people as of Thursday afternoon, Perry said. Those include inpatient addiction treatment, apartments, and friends and family. Perry said the shelter has been providing referral services for treatment; bus tickets to get guests to the homes of friends or family; and money for rental deposits and rent for people who have support services and income that will allow them to stay in apartments for the long term.
Perry said last-minute donations from the community have helped secure housing or bus tickets for five of those 29 people, and that the shelter has received many other forms of support. A fundraiser called Keep Lawrence Habitable had raised about $8,000 as of Thursday evening. That effort is organized in part by Nickie Daneke, who works for the Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority but is fundraising in her individual capacity.
Perry also said that Educational Testing Service has been selling its old equipment and has donated $1,600 in proceeds, and that a volunteer had organized a catered meal for shelter guests on Thursday night with donations from Limestone, Rudy’s Pizzeria, Eileen’s Colossal Cookies, the Merc and Hy-Vee.
Perry said the shelter had raised $236,108 year-to-date, but that it had not yet determined how much it had received in donations since making the announcement that it would be reducing its capacity. She said the shelter continues to raise money with the hope of being able to increase its capacity before wintertime.
More specifically, Perry said the shelter would need to raise about $150,000 to pay for the staff, food and other expenses needed to increase the capacity by just 30 people. She said a less expensive option, though less preferred, would be to allow additional guests but only allow them to sleep at the shelter.