Douglas County commissioners approve Lawrence Community Shelter’s $148K request

photo by: Mackenzie Clark

Lawrence Community Shelter board member Dan White, left, speaks during the Douglas County Commission's meeting on Wednesday, June 12, 2019, as Board President Thea Perry stands by.

After years of financial issues at the Lawrence Community Shelter, its board sought supplemental funding of $148,000 from the Douglas County Commission.

Commissioners on Wednesday approved the request, each noting that the shelter couldn’t be allowed to close its doors but also offering their thoughts and suggestions to the three present members of the shelter’s board of directors.

Commission Chair Michelle Derusseau spoke first. She said there was no question that the need was there; however, she was still “very frustrated” about what’s been going on with the shelter for the past several years.

photo by: Mackenzie Clark

Douglas County Commission Chair Michelle Derusseau, right, speaks during the commission’s meeting on Wednesday, June 12, 2019. Derusseau said she was “very frustrated” about what’s been going on with the Lawrence Community Shelter over the past several years. At left is Commissioner Nancy Thellman.

“We keep being reassured that there’s a new board, but what concerns me is that there’s always going to be a new board,” she said. “So how do we prevent these things from happening again?”

She said in her memory, this was at least the third time since 2014 that the shelter had requested emergency funding, without which it would have to close its doors.

“There seems to be this assumption that we’re just going to continue to come up with the money, but now the money is huge — the money is more than we normally give, and it’s being considered a supplemental request,” Derusseau said. In its annual budget, the county had provided the shelter $115,000.

When the commission agreed to hire a consulting firm to help the shelter, Derusseau said, she thought the intention was for the shelter to find a way to continue operating within its current budget. She said the new model the shelter’s board had presented relied upon faith-based groups, fundraising and grants — and “none of that is guaranteed.”

photo by: Mackenzie Clark

From left, Lawrence Community Shelter Board of Directors Treasurer Keith Nowland and member Dan White stand by as Board President Thea Perry speaks during the Douglas County Commission’s meeting on Wednesday, June 12, 2019.

Board President Thea Perry told commissioners the board has worked to reconnect with previous donors, including expanding a mailer and making phone calls. She said she wants to constantly evaluate the status over the next six months.

Shelter board member Dan White told the commission that one new approach in the plan is for the future executive director, yet to be hired, to focus exclusively on fundraising and relationships with local government and the media. A new director of operations will manage the shelter’s day-to-day work, he said.

photo by: Mackenzie Clark

Commission Vice Chair Patrick Kelly cautioned the board members about relying on one leader.

“In the end, it becomes your fiduciary duty, your board’s duty, to make sure that organization runs smoothly,” he said. He noted that the county’s staff recommendation to approve the request was the assurance he needed, but he said he wanted to continue checking in to avoid having the same situation come up again.

photo by: Mackenzie Clark

Douglas County Commissioner Nancy Thellman speaks to members of the Lawrence Community Shelter Board of Directors during the commission’s meeting on Wednesday, June 12, 2019. “For me, you’ve done what we’ve asked you to do, and you’ve presented us with the needs you have right now, and you are allowing us to be part of your board and your decisions along the way,” Thellman told the board members.

Commissioner Nancy Thellman said she thinks the way social service agencies are working more closely together now could potentially help shelter guests access the services and resources they need to be successful, which the shelter has previously tried to do on its own.

The commission’s approval of the supplemental $148,000 brings the shelter’s funding from the county for 2019 to $263,000. The shelter also seeks $252,000 from the city of Lawrence.

For its 2020 budget, the shelter requested $296,000 from the county. That will be considered as part of the regular budget process in the coming weeks.

In other news:

June 12, 2019: Douglas County Commission approves construction managers for jail expansion, behavioral health housing

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