City plans to buy former private school site along North Michigan Street for homeless shelter project

photo by: City of Lawrence/Pallet

The city of Lawrence approved a project with Washington-based Pallet, which produces small shelters such as the ones shown above, to provide secure places for people who are homeless to temporarily reside.

Story updated at 4:17 p.m. Wednesday, March 15:

The City of Lawrence plans to buy the site of a former private school along North Michigan Street to house a village of temporary shelters for people experiencing homelessness.

City officials announced Wednesday afternoon that city commissioners will be asked to approve the purchase of property at 256 N. Michigan St., which is the former site of Veritas Christian School, at an upcoming meeting. Commissioners will take public comment and then consider approving the purchase at their March 21 meeting.

The city intends to use the property for what it is calling its Pallet Shelter village. The project will feature small pre-fabricated shelters, which include heating and cooling and can be erected quickly to provide private shelter for people who are experiencing homelessness.

“We are committed to making Lawrence a community where all people can feel at home, can feel safe and can enjoy life,” Assistant City Manager Brandon McGuire said in a news release. “This includes our community members experiencing homelessness, and the City is working hard to provide needed emergency shelter resources. While we’re excited by the interim need that Pallet can fill, our work is far from done.”

The city said the village will include facilities for restrooms, laundry, shower and community gathering and office space for providers of supportive services, and will be supported with on-site staff. The city expects to use the shelter village for three to five years while other housing options, including transitional, supportive and affordable housing, are being developed in the community.

“Emergency shelter solutions like a Pallet Shelter village are necessary to help people currently experiencing homelessness, but they are not the permanent answer,” the release states.

Maureen Brady, a spokesperson for the city, said the city plans to demolish all buildings currently on the property, and that the remaining concrete pads could be used to support the Pallet Shelter village. The former private school site has an 11,000-square-foot building and sits on 3.4 acres, according to a real estate listing for the property.

Previously, the city has said it may erect 75 of the small shelters, but the press release on Wednesday did not specify a number. Instead, it said the city’s immediate goal is to develop an adequate amount of emergency shelter facilities for Lawrence community members in need on any given night.

In December, city commissioners set aside $4.5 million in pandemic relief funds to cover the pallet village and other efforts to address homelessness. That allocation included funding for the pallet shelters, land acquisition or lease, and other emergency sheltering efforts. The city announced last week it was also using those funds to help support expanded capacity at the Lawrence Community Shelter in eastern Lawrence. The city’s release does not provide information on how much the city has agreed to pay for the property, but a real estate listing for the property advertised an asking price of $770,000.

The site on North Michigan is part of the Pinkney Neighborhood Association and across the street from the Woodcreek Townhomes and Woodcreek Condos. Margretta de Vries, HOA board president of the Woodcreek Townhouse Association (there is a separate association for the condos), said that unless she is able to call an emergency meeting, the HOA members would not be able to meet to discuss the topic within the short notice provided ahead of the commission’s meeting. She said that although the HOA had not taken a vote on the topic, most neighbors she had heard from had expressed concerns over reports the city was looking at the site, including concerns about security, parking and conflict resolution.

“There needs to be a lot more information shared with us before we feel confident that this is an acceptable idea that we’re even willing to support,” de Vries said.

The Journal-World also reached out to the Pinkney Neighborhood Association via email, but had not heard back as of 4 p.m. Wednesday.

The release states that the city is committed to working with the surrounding neighborhood to make the Pallet Shelter village a successful addition.

City officials have previously estimated that they will be able to open the Pallet Shelter village by June.

photo by: Douglas County

The property at 256 N. Michigan Street, which is the former site of Veritas Christian School, is pictured on the Douglas County Property Viewer.


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