Lawrence leaders to hear updates on homelessness response initiatives, including Pallet Shelter Village and Lawrence Community Shelter

photo by: Rochelle Valverde/Journal-World

Lawrence City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St., is pictured on Jan. 31, 2023.

At this week’s Lawrence City Commission meeting, city leaders will receive an update about a number of ongoing homelessness response initiatives, including the future Pallet Shelter Village on North Michigan Street and the recent shift to a shared governance structure at the Lawrence Community Shelter.

The update comes two weeks after city leaders requested more information about homelessness initiatives at their Sept. 5 meeting. A memo included with this week’s City Commission agenda outlines a handful of points for a few projects, and it notes that staff plans to respond to commissioners’ questions at Tuesday’s meeting.

Pallet Shelter Village

As the Journal-World has reported, the city since March has been working to turn the site of a former private school at 256 N. Michigan St. into the home of 50 prefabricated 64-square-foot cabins for people experiencing homelessness. But those plans have stalled in recent months due to delays to some parts of the project like demolition and developing a finalized site plan.

The Pallet Shelter Village also still doesn’t have an agency lined up to operate the temporary shelter site, another reason for the project’s delay, after failing to receive any bids from service providers through the city’s first request for proposals process earlier this year.

A second attempt to engage with service providers also resulted in no responses, the Journal-World has learned. City spokesperson Cori Wallace said earlier this month that instead of a second request for proposals, the city issued a “request for information” instead — an alternate procurement technique used to solicit input from interested parties that can then be used to develop a revised statement of work for a second request for proposals.

The request for information document, which the Journal-World has obtained, was issued Aug. 4 and closed Aug. 29. Wallace said no potential providers or homeless services consultants submitted letters of intent or responses by the Aug. 29 closing, and as a result the city hasn’t yet issued a second request for proposals.

In terms of other new information about the Pallet Shelter Village project, the City Commission memo notes that a shelter operations plan is in development and will be reviewed with the Pinckney neighborhood stakeholder group to address neighbors’ interests and concerns. The memo also notes that city staff will continue engaging with services providers to provide care coordination for residents at the village.

Lawrence Community Shelter

As the Journal-World reported, the City of Lawrence, Douglas County and the Lawrence Community Shelter announced a planned move to a shared governance model earlier this month. City officials confirmed the shift was a direct response to the shelter’s funding shortfall.

Per the City Commission memo, the proposal would establish shared governance in anticipation of additional public investment to provide stability for the shelter and enhance sheltering capacity in the community. The restructured Lawrence Community Shelter Board of Directors would be made up of three members appointed by the City Commission, two members appointed by the Douglas County Commission and two members currently serving on the board.

The memo notes that a revision of the board’s bylaws is currently being drafted and the new board is anticipated to be in place in approximately eight weeks.

New staff, partners in Housing Initiatives Division

The city announced it had hired a new Homeless Programs coordinator, Misty Bosch-Hastings, in July, and it appears that the city’s Housing Initiatives Division is poised to lean on a couple of outside partnerships moving forward.

The City Commission memo notes that the city plans to announce a partnership with Barry Feaker, the CEO of Compassion Strategies, in the coming weeks. The city says Feaker, whose agency helps organizations to refine their missions and develop comprehensive systems to support evidence-based outcomes for vulnerable populations, will provide technical expertise and guidance to the city based on his background in developing and leading sheltering and homelessness recovery programs in Topeka.

Also according to the memo, the Housing Initiatives Division is working with Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center’s Homeless Outreach Team, which provides support for city initiatives like Camp New Beginnings, the city’s North Lawrence support site for those experiencing homelessness.

“As we continue building our team and augmenting our capacity through partnerships, we will communicate those changes to our various stakeholders and audiences, such as providers, neighborhood stakeholders and the business community,” the memo reads.

Douglas County’s “by name” list

The memo notes that Douglas County is developing a “by name” list intended to provide more accurate and regular data about the homeless population beyond the annual point-in-time count facilitated by the Kansas Statewide Homeless Coalition. The coalition has a specific staff person under contract with the county to help compile the “by name” list.

The city says it’s working with those partners and others to begin regular data collection and case management practices that will help contribute to compiling more accurate data.

In other business, commissioners will:

• Open a public hearing on the establishment of a Neighborhood Revitalization Area and Community Improvement District at 900 Rhode Island St., which will continue at the City Commission’s Nov. 14 meeting.

The hearing is related to a project to convert one of the oldest buildings in Lawrence, the Turnhalle building at the southeast corner of Ninth and Rhode Island streets, into an event hall and restaurant.

City leaders won’t take any action during the hearing this week because the project’s incentive request requires a “but-for” analysis conducted by a third-party organization, the National Development Council, to determine the need for assistance and at what level. That analysis won’t be prepared until the Nov. 14 meeting, when city leaders will decide whether to approve the incentives.

While there is still some analysis work ahead, the project team has formally filed requests with the city for a 15-year, 85% NRA property tax rebate, the creation of a Community Improvement District to charge an additional 2% sales tax for 20 years and the issuance of Industrial Revenue Bonds for the purpose of obtaining a sales tax exemption on project materials and labor.

The Lawrence City Commission will convene at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St.

Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to reflect that the Turnhalle building is on the southeast corner of Ninth and Rhode Island streets.


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