At work session, Lawrence and Douglas County leaders call for more in-depth discussion of homeless shelter, affordable housing

photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

The Lawrence City Commission and Douglas County Commission met for a joint work session on affordable housing and homelessness Tuesday, July 12, 2022. The group touched on a wide range of topics including the Lawrence Community Shelter.

Douglas County leaders want to do more to help people in the local homeless shelter transition into stable housing, and they say they’ll need to work closely with City of Lawrence leaders to achieve that.

Leaders from the city and the county held a joint work session on affordable housing on Tuesday, giving county commissioners a chance to learn more about housing issues in Lawrence from city leaders. But the work session only lasted about 45 minutes, and County Commissioner Shannon Reid said the governments needed to have a more extensive conversation in the future, particularly about the Lawrence Community Shelter.

County commissioners wanted to discuss the shelter’s finances, which the city and county governments both contribute to. But they were also concerned with what happens to clients who stay at the shelter for a long period of time and then transition back into the community. The shelter’s long-term stay program lasts 90 days, during which clients receive services that are intended to help them transition into more permanent housing. But County Commissioner Patrick Kelly said he was concerned that many of the people leaving the shelter after 90 days were slipping through the cracks.

“I think how we work together is so important when we make that hand-off from emergency shelter to supportive housing, or even from emergency shelter to affordable housing,” Kelly said. “I think that’s a place where we could continue to work together and figure out how that works.”

On Tuesday, leaders also talked about possibly taking an inventory of vacant housing in Lawrence and incorporating affordable housing stability into the city’s new development code. They also briefly mentioned a neighborhood revitalization program as a way to help alleviate housing issues, but didn’t go into much detail on what that might look like.

Assistant City Manager Diane Stoddard also walked the group through some of the city’s ongoing housing efforts, some of which have come from the Housing Initiatives Division that the city created as part of its budget process last year. Stoddard said the division is planning to continue the winter emergency shelter, which was located in the downtown Community Building last winter. She also said the city is still focused on providing more affordable housing units in the community, and City Commissioner Brad Finkeldei said the city’s proposed budget for 2023 includes some affordable housing-related items. He mentioned the possibility of purchasing land that could be used for affordable housing projects, for example.

Overall, the group agreed that housing availability was a big topic and needed much more discussion and collaboration than a single joint meeting.

“We all know it’s a complex issue with multiple layers of interventions needed — (like) types of housing — and a real spectrum of needs that’s been brought up by multiple commissioners this evening,” Reid said. “I think that it’s interconnected to these other sometimes less obvious issues also, such as workforce development and economic development in our community.”

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