Douglas County Commission to consider providing funding to use hotels for isolating homeless individuals exposed to COVID-19

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World File Photo

The Douglas County Courthouse is pictured in September 2018.

Douglas County may soon help fund the use of hotels to quarantine homeless individuals during the coronavirus pandemic.

The County Commission on Wednesday will consider approving its half of a joint city-county funding plan that would pay up to $80,000 over the next four months for the program. Porter Arneill, a spokesman for the city of Lawrence, said the City Commission authorized the city’s funding portion for the program during its meeting on April 14.

According to a memo to commissioners, local agencies — such as Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center, DCCCA and the Lawrence Community Shelter, among others — have needed to provide appropriate isolation spaces for homeless clients who have been exposed to or are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19.

However, the ability to provide social distancing measures to those clients has been limited, which has put the agencies’ staffs at risk. That led to the search for other options, which found using hotel rooms for isolation purposes as the most feasible.

While the county’s funding for the service would be a new program, Assistant County Administrator Jill Jolicoeur told the Journal-World in an email that the community service providers in the program have previously used hotels to house homeless clients when needed. She said the city-county program would provide funding to the community service providers, who would then contract the use of the local hotels rooms.

Those community organizations would also provide services to the clients housed in hotel rooms during their stay, which could last from 24 hours to 16 days, according to the memo. No hotel staff would be responsible for serving the clients using the hotel rooms, Jolicoeur told the Journal-World.

If the plan were to be approved, the county would split the cost with the City of Lawrence for a total of $40,000 each. The program would provide up to $20,000 in reimbursements each month.

In other business, the commissioners will consider retracting an application to demolish a county facility at 1242 Massachusetts St.

According to a memo to the commissioners, a resident expressed concern about the county’s demolition plan because of the site’s potential historic value. After a review, the state’s historic preservation office found the facility, which was originally a church, could be eligible for the state or federal register of historic places. The city’s planning staff later changed its stance on the county’s plan to a recommendation of denial, according to the memo.

The facility housed the county’s public works department until 2015, when the department moved to its current location at 3755 E. 25th St. As the Journal-World previously reported, the county originally planned to demolish the unoccupied building because it has significant structural issues.

The County Commission will meet through an online video conference at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday. The meetings will be open to the walk-in public at the county courthouse, 1100 Massachusetts St., but a link for the public to watch live online is available on the county’s website, Residents may also call in and listen by phone by dialing 1-312-626-6799 and entering meeting ID 911-8548-7494. Full audio from the meeting will continue to be posted on the county’s website as normal.

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