Douglas County will join initiative to help address chronic homelessness

photo by: Dylan Lysen

Douglas County Commissioners Nancy Thellman, left, Patrick Kelly, center, and Michelle Derusseau, right, listen to public comment during their meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 19 2020.

Douglas County will soon begin crafting a tool to collect data on the local homeless community that will be used to fight chronic homelessness in the area.

On Wednesday, the County Commission approved an agreement with Community Solutions to take part in the Built For Zero initiative. Community Solutions is a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending homelessness.

Although the local effort will be led by Douglas County, it will include input from a team of representatives of other organizations, including the City of Lawrence, Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center, Lawrence Douglas County Housing Authority, the Lawrence Community Shelter and the Kansas Statewide Homeless Coalition.

For the first year of their involvement in the program, the county and its partners will work with Community Solutions’ representatives to develop a resource to track data related to the chronically homeless population in the area.

Renee Kuhl, executive director of the Lawrence Community Shelter, said the shelter currently has a data collection tool, but it does not collect as much data as she would like. She said the new data tool that will be created through Built for Zero would collect more meaningful information.

Additionally, she said the tool will be used by the county, the shelter and their many partners to collect and maintain more accurate data related to the homeless population.

“That will allow all of the agencies serving this population to access that information,” she said. “We will use that information together to inform our choices about how we are serving individual people and what it’s going to take to get each one of them housed.”

The county will pay $10,000 for the first year of its participation in the Built For Zero initiative. County Administrator Sarah Plinsky said that is a relatively small price for the county to participate, but she noted it is only the first phase of the county’s plan to address chronic homelessness.

“These solutions to get to that place will have price tags attached to them,” she said, referring to actions needed to reduce homelessness. “There will be a time when we’ll have to have more conversations on what those dollar amounts would be and how as a whole community we can support those efforts.”

Plinsky said the county’s effort to fight homelessness could be a slow but deliberate process. The county estimates there could be more than 250 chronically homeless individuals in the Lawrence and Douglas County community.

“I want people to have realistic expectations of what we’re doing in this first year, which is going to be a lot of data collection, lists and talking about maintenance of those systems,” she said.

In other business, the commissioners approved purchasing six cardiac monitors and two portable ventilators for Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical for $195,000.

Division Chief Kevin Joles previously told the Journal-World that the new portable ventilators will replace the outdated ventilators LDCFM currently uses, but they could also be beneficial in the community’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

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What to do if you think you may have COVID-19

Patients who have symptoms — difficulty breathing, cough and fever — should stay home, immediately isolate themselves from others and call their health care providers. Patients should never show up unannounced at a medical office or hospital. Instead, they should call ahead to explain their symptoms and give health care workers the ability to minimize the risk to others.

If patients do not have health care providers, they may call the Lawrence Douglas-County health department’s coronavirus line, 785-856-4343.

For updated information on the outbreak, Kansas residents can email or call 866-534-3463 (866-KDHEINF), which is staffed 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday; 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday; and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.

More information can be found through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s website or the Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health website.

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