City of Lawrence says tents have been allowed to remain on levee slope 3 weeks after deadline to prevent further damage to ground cover

photo by: Shawn Valverde

Tents are pictured along the Kansas River levee in North Lawrence on Dec. 27, 2023.

More than three weeks after the city’s deadline for campers near the Kansas River in North Lawrence to move their belongings off the levee slope, campers remain at the site, despite engineers having said that their presence was damaging the levee in violation of federal guidelines.

In late December, the city determined that campsites and trash on the slope must be removed to protect the integrity of the levee, which is a crucial structure for flood control.

On Dec. 27, the city painted a bright orange line along the grassy slope and posted a notice that said any remaining property south of the line after Jan. 8 would be discarded. But 22 days later, property remains, and the city says that moving the items under recent weather conditions — presumably referring to subzero temperatures and snow earlier in the month and now mud — would have created more damage.

“The purpose of the move was to prevent further damage to levee sod or grassy areas along the (levee),” said Misty Bosch-Hastings, the city’s homeless programs coordinator, in an email. “The weather prevented us from moving any camps as it would have caused further damage.”

Misty Bosch-Hastings said that the homeless solutions team was meeting to develop another plan.

“The same procedures will be followed as before,” she said, meaning the city will post at the site again, provide a time frame, then allow the campers to adjust their location.

The City of Lawrence’s engineering program manager, Kyle Gonterwitz, told the Journal-World in December that damaging “encroachments” on the slope needed to be removed to restore the sod, which is critical for soil retention and levee integrity. He said at the time that the Jan. 8 deadline was chosen to allow people ample time to move their belongings.

The tents on the levee slope are part of an unsanctioned camp that lies outside the boundary of the city-run campsite known as New Beginnings.

The Kansas River corridor has been a popular area for people experiencing homelessness in Lawrence, which has seen an explosive growth in the unhoused population — more than four times faster than the national rate in 2023, according to a new federal report. In response, the city has allowed widespread public camping and is now facing a lawsuit by two dozen plaintiffs who say the practice has resulted in environmental degradation, among other issues.


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