Lawrence temporary cold-weather shelter finds new home, seeks volunteers
A temporary cold-weather shelter for the homeless has found another church to house the program, although the location of that church is not being disclosed.
The Lawrence Winter Shelter program announced in a Facebook post on Monday that it had found another location and needed volunteers to cover supervision this week so that it could open. The program only shelters guests overnight when nighttime temperatures are below freezing. The announcement comes as temperatures are forecast to be in the single digits on Wednesday and Thursday nights.
The LWS program originally opened on Dec. 15 at the First United Methodist Church, 946 Vermont St. The program announced about three weeks ago that because of capacity issues it would stop operating at the church. The program has been closed since then as it sought a new location.
The announcement said it was not identifying the new location of the program at the request of the church. The announcement did not specify how homeless people who want to take shelter at the church would know where to go, though the program has coordinated in the past with several local organizations that serve the homeless.
“We are currently working out of a church in Lawrence, but they have asked us not to publicize their name, as they do not want praise or recognition for opening their space to our project,” the announcement states.
LWS coordinator Kristi Hill, who is paid a stipend to coordinate the volunteer-led program, said in an email to the Journal-World Tuesday that she was also talking to a second church about housing the program. Hill did not immediately respond to a follow-up phone call and email regarding the location of the first church or whether a second location was confirmed.
City code only allows churches and other religious organizations to shelter up to 15 people, so having another location could double the number of people who could be sheltered under city code. However, some have questioned the reasoning for that limit.
Vice Mayor Brad Finkeldei said at the City Commission’s meeting Tuesday night that he was on the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission when that code was established. He said the 15-person limit was set in part because the organization requesting the ability for churches to house homeless people, Family Promise, was limited to 15 people because it only had one 15-passenger van to transport the guests. Commissioners indicated at the meeting they were interested in reconsidering the limit, and the topic will be discussed at an upcoming meeting.
Hill told the commission at its meeting Tuesday that when the LWS program was operated at the First United Methodist Church, it was sheltering an average of about 20 people per night, but had sheltered as many as 43 people when nighttime temperatures were extremely cold. Hill said the program had housed 59 different people in the time it was open, indicating that the service was needed.
The program was established following a capacity reduction at the Lawrence Community Shelter. Because of a budget shortfall and changes to its staffing model, the shelter reduced its capacity last year, which some say has increased the number of homeless people sleeping outdoors.
Those interested in volunteering can email the program at Lawrencewintershelter@outlook.com.