Temporary cold-weather shelter for Lawrence homeless announces closure, plans to find new location

photo by: Nick Gerik

First United Methodist Church, 946 Vermont St., is pictured Sunday, Dec. 15, 2019.

A volunteer-led cold-weather shelter for the homeless has announced it will close until it can find a new location to house the program.

The Lawrence Winter Shelter, which is run entirely by volunteers and donations, made the announcement on Facebook at about 11 p.m. Thursday, saying that the shelter will no longer be operating at the First United Methodist Church, 946 Vermont St. The announcement said the church had been gracious to allow the shelter to operate there, but that the change was being made because of capacity issues.

“Unfortunately, the number of folks utilizing this service has been more than expected and more than was agreed upon with the church,” the announcement said.

The announcement went on to say that the change was effective beginning Friday night and that the LWS did not yet have a new location. It stated that Friday and Saturday the shelter would be working with people who had been staying at the church to get them into some type of shelter until a new location to house the LWS had been found.

“Many folks shared … that they will be sleeping in tents for the next few nights and some will move out to the Lawrence Community Shelter for a few nights,” the announcement said.

LWS coordinator Kristi Hill told the Journal-World in an email that she did not have more information to provide beyond the announcement at this time. She said the LWS had a meeting with a local pastor from another church, which she did not name, on Friday afternoon and that she hoped to be able to provide more information soon.

The LWS has typically been open any night the temperature is forecast to drop below freezing. The overnight temperature is forecast to be near or below freezing every night for at least the next week.

The LWS was created in response to a reduction in capacity at the Lawrence Community Shelter that left dozens of people sleeping outdoors. The LWS opened in the First United Methodist Church on Dec. 15.

City code allows religious organizations to operate temporary shelters for the homeless without a special use permit under certain capacity restrictions. Specifically, religious institutions can use their buildings for emergency overnight shelters for as long as four months out of the year. The shelter can have up to 20 occupants, consisting of 15 shelter clients and five support staff members. A special-use permit can be requested if the organization wants to exceed those limits.

The Lawrence Community Shelter, 3655 E. 25th St., has been operating at a reduced capacity since August because of financial issues. Last year, the shelter increased the required number of staff who work directly with guests based on recommendations from a consultant hired by the City of Lawrence and Douglas County. The shelter subsequently requested a funding increase from both local governments, but the city did not fully fund the request, opting instead to match the amount provided by Douglas County. The shelter then decided to reduce capacity.

The City Commission recently invited the Lawrence Community Shelter to make a supplemental funding request after the city learned it had exceeded its projections for sales tax collections for 2019. Last week, the commission voted unanimously to provide the shelter an additional $31,000 this year. The funding will allow the shelter to provide an additional 15 beds until mid-April on nights when the temperature drops below 40 degrees.

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated how the county responded to the Lawrence Community Shelter’s 2020 funding request. The county fully funded the request.


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