City says new safety measures to be in force at North Lawrence camp for people experiencing homelessness

photo by: Rochelle Valverde/Journal-World

Fencing separates the city-managed campsite in North Lawrence, at right, from the "unsanctioned" campsites at left.

Updated at 3:45 p.m. Monday, April 24

City of Lawrence leaders have begun informing community members staying at the city-sanctioned support site for those experiencing homelessness that a new safety measure — which includes a strictly enforced no-visitors policy and a signed agreement — will take effect Monday.

The new measure is designed around nationally recognized best practices and came about after consultation with experts and individuals with lived experience, the city said in a news release Monday morning.

The site in North Lawrence has long had a no-visitors sign at the entrance, and the city clarified to the Journal-World that what’s new is the stricter enforcement of the policy since the site is now staffed all day and night.

On Monday, residents were presented with a document called the “Rules and Expectations Agreement” to review and sign.

The Journal-World reviewed a copy of the agreement posted outside the camp. It listed rules such as residents must be able to take care of their daily activities independently, such as showering, “toileting” and dressing without assistance; must not smoke in the tents or use alcohol and illegal drugs; must not threaten others, verbally assault them or photograph them; must not have visitors within the site; and must keep their spaces clean and quiet, among other rules. The agreement also states that tent checks will be conducted biweekly, with the city having the right to enter a tent if the resident is absent. At the bottom is a line for residents to sign and date.

Laura McCabe, a spokeswoman for the city who had spent most of the day at the site helping to get the agreements signed, told the Journal-World Monday afternoon that 31 people had signed by 3:15 p.m. She said support service partners were on hand to discuss concerns that residents might have, and people who had reading difficulties had the agreement read aloud to them.

“We have space for about 50 community members,” she said in an email, “and we hope to get signed agreements from them all within the next few days.”

McCabe did not hear “strong objections” from most of the residents, most of whom signed quickly, she said.

“We recognize not everyone there is pleased with the change,” she told the Journal-World. “I also talked to two residents who didn’t like the fence or the no visitor enforcement, but we hope those concerns ease and they come to realize we’re trying to create an environment where they can feel a little more secure.”

photo by: City of Lawrence

The tent site opened in October 2022 as a temporary solution to a shortage of shelter beds. Since that time, several incidents involving criminal activity have occurred in the vicinity, and three people have been found dead from drug-related activity, as the Journal-World has reported.

photo by: Kim Callahan/Journal-World

Memorial items decorate a fence Monday, April 24, 2023, at the city-supported camp for people experiencing homelessness. The memorial is for three people who were found dead in or near the camp at different times: Ashley Sawyer, 36, from left; Anthony Cipollaro, 26; and Susan Ford, 53.

In early March, the city provided the area with 24-hour staffing and a hygiene trailer where residents could shower, use flush toilets and do laundry. The city also moved the site’s fencing “to better surround the site’s working footprint,” the release said.

City workers will post any new policies on a board at the site so residents know how to appropriately use services, and volunteers can continue to provide donations. Mental health support services and other community outreach partners will be able to sign in as approved support visitors, the release said.

photo by: Kim Callahan/Journal-World

The entrance to the city-supported campsite for those experiencing homelessness is pictured Monday, April 24, 2023, in North Lawrence.

“Our goal has always been to help our at-risk neighbors experiencing homelessness,” said Cicely Thornton, the city’s Homeless Programs project specialist, in the release. “As the camp has evolved through time, needs also continue to change. We believe the people we serve should be afforded as much safety and privacy as possible while they work with community partners toward a more sustainable solution.”

The release noted that Lawrence’s unhoused population has increased significantly since the COVID-19 pandemic. A count conducted in January 2022 indicated that 232 community members were unhoused. However, McCabe said the city estimated that the number is higher now.

photo by: Kim Callahan/Journal-World

An aerial view of the city-supported camp in North Lawrence that’s posted on the bulletin board just outside the camp.

Recently, the Lawrence City Commission approved a plan to develop a new 24/7 managed emergency shelter consisting of up to 75 small cabins constructed by Pallet Homes. The new site, located at 256 N. Michigan St., is projected to open this summer.


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