Lawrence City Commission to consider permit for campsite for homeless people in northern Lawrence
photo by: contributed photo
City leaders will soon decide whether to approve a permit that would allow a temporary campsite for homeless people to locate in a park in northern Lawrence.
As part of its meeting Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission will consider a special event permit for a temporary sanctioned campground at Woody Park, 201 Maine Street. The campsite will provide access to toilets, showers, laundry facilities and social services for people who are homeless.
“This proposal is intended to supplement existing community service providers’ efforts to combat a growing homeless and housing insecurity issue in Lawrence,” a city staff memo to the commission states.
The city received $374,000 in funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or CARES, to purchase the portable trailers that will house the campsite facilities and to support the provision of social services, as the Journal-World previously reported. The number of people living outside has increased during the coronavirus pandemic, as the Lawrence Community Shelter has reduced its capacity in an effort to maintain social distancing.
Impromptu campsites can be found along the banks of the Kansas River, the 25-acre greenbelt that makes up Naismith Valley Park, and in other wooded or secluded areas in the city. More than a dozen campsites are currently located in the woods along the riverbank, and there is no nearby access to bathrooms or running water. Instead of the scattered and potentially unsanitary camps, organizers of the new campsite, which include the city and Douglas County, previously told the Journal-World the project will create a sanctioned and more hygienic campsite, with the additional goal of connecting those living outside with the social support services and resources they need to get housed.
The campground will provide shelter to about 25 people who are experiencing homelessness, according to the memo. The city will contract with a management partner to provide 24/7 staffing of the site to ensure campsite operations meet program, resident and community expectations. In addition, the people staying at the campsite will be screened by social service providers for placement to assess mental and physical vulnerability as well as compliance with the code of conduct for the campsite.
A proposed code of conduct included with the agenda materials bars sex offenders, weapons and drugs or alcohol from the campsite and also states that campsite residents can be barred if they do not follow behavior expectations. Those expectations include no violent, aggressive or abusive behavior on the site or in the surrounding neighborhood and no alcohol, illicit substances or public intoxication on the site or within one mile of the site. Camp residents will also be expected to submit to routine searches for any weapons upon entry to the campsite.
Woody Park consists of an open field, ball diamond and one slide and is located behind the LMH Health hospital in the Pinckney neighborhood. Pinckney Neighborhood Association president Bart Littlejohn told the Journal-World that the association does not have an official position about the proposal at this time. He said the city and the neighborhood association have been in discussion, and the association would want to make sure certain expectations are followed so that the neighborhood feels comfortable with the proposal.
If the commission approves the permit, the campsite would begin intakes and screening in early November and the camp would open shortly thereafter, according to the memo. The campsite would remain open until at least through December and would close at the latest in February or March.
The City Commission will convene virtually at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday, with limited staff members in place at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St. The city has asked that residents participate in the meeting virtually if they are able to do so, using temporary meeting procedures put in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Directions for submitting public comment and correspondence are included in the meeting agenda that is available on the city’s website, lawrenceks.org.