In day 2 of Douglas County budget hearings, agencies share their proposals for fighting chronic homelessness, addiction and more

photo by: Josie Heimsoth/Journal-World

Douglas County Commissioners meet for their second day of budget hearings at the Douglas County Public Works building, 3755 E 25th St on July 9, 2024.

A host of social service agencies — and, for the first time, a local church — are asking Douglas County for funding in 2025 to build new transitional housing and strengthen the support systems for people struggling with homelessness and substance abuse.

The Douglas County Commission on Tuesday, the second day of its 2025 budget hearings, heard funding requests from several social service agencies whose projects would support the community plan to end chronic homelessness, “A Place for Everyone.” As the Journal-World has reported, the plan’s goal is to achieve “functional zero” homelessness by 2028, meaning the number of people experiencing homelessness never exceeds the community’s capacity to move people into permanent housing.

Commissioners didn’t make any final decisions at Tuesday’s hearings, but Assistant County Administrator Jill Jolicoeur signaled that the county wanted to prioritize projects that address chronic homelessness. She said that historically, the county hasn’t always had the funding or supportive wraparound services that are needed to keep people housed.

For two of the organizations that addressed the commission on Tuesday — the Cardinal Housing Network and Ninth Street Missionary Baptist Church — it was the first time they’d requested funds from the county. Both of them are looking for money to build more housing for people exiting difficult situations like drug addiction and homelessness.

Ninth Street Missionary Baptist Church is seeking $900,000 to collaborate with another local organization, Family Promise, to build six transitional housing units for Family Promise clients on property owned by the church. Family Promise would provide case management and other supportive services to the families served by those units.

Cardinal Housing Network, meanwhile, might not sound as familiar in Lawrence as some other organizations requesting funds. It’s a new local nonprofit created to provide housing, supplemental care and educational programs to women recovering from substance abuse, and it is seeking $383,000 to create eight permanent supportive housing units for that population.

It wasn’t the only organization seeking funding for such a project. A longtime player in the Douglas County social services field, DCCCA, is requesting $800,000 to help pay for its $4.2 million recovery housing project for women with substance use disorders and their children.

Not all of the requests related to “A Place for Everyone” would build new housing. Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health, for instance, wants $42,000 to help fund its Wellness Wednesdays program, which uses a mobile clinic to provide on-site services such as physical exams, immunizations and more at the Lawrence Commmunity Shelter. The idea, as LDCPH Executive Director Jonathan Smith previously told the Journal-World, is to improve access to health care by meeting unhoused people in the community where they are.

“The whole reason we’re able to do the Wellness Wednesday initiative now is because of a community development block grant from the city, and we expect to spend all that probably by the middle point of next year,” Smith said on Tuesday. “And it’s been going really well, so it’s something we wanted to keep going.”

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Plenty of other social service organizations addressed the commission on Tuesday, including the O’Connell Children’s Shelter, the Senior Resource Center, the Sexual Trauma & Abuse Care Center, the Willow Domestic Violence Center, the City of Lawrence’s family shelter project, Trinity In-Home Health, the Jayhawk Area Agency on Aging, Just Food, the Housing Stabilization Collaborative and the Salvation Army. Here are a couple of other highlights from those requests:

• The O’Connell Children’s Shelter is requesting a six-figure allocation to help provide resources and services to students who are chronically absent from the county’s K-12 schools.

Erin Harmon, prevention services supervisor for the O’Connell Children’s Shelter, said her organization had seen significant increases in K-12 truancy. The agency is requesting $90,000 to hire two additional case managers for its truancy prevention programs, and another $275,495 for other truancy prevention services.

“We just have an excessive amount of kids and we’re trying to serve as many families as we possibly can,” Harmon said.

• Local food bank Just Food is requesting $25,000 in additional funding to cope with the rising costs of its food purchases. Its request said the organization currently spends $40,000 each month on food purchases for its main pantry alone, and it also has to stock its mobile pantry in order to provide service to rural and high-need areas in Douglas County. The request said 80% of Just Food’s funding comes from community donations, but that those have dropped significantly, and that the food bank is now spending nearly $20,000 a month on nonperishable items “that we once were able to acquire for free.”

“Over the last year, we have had to begin to implement more procedures and policies because we’re stretched so thin,” Aundrea Walker, executive director of Just Food, said Tuesday.

County commissioners have one more day of budget hearings scheduled before the commission begins deliberations on the 2025 budget. County Administrator Sarah Plinsky’s recommended budget calls for no increase in the county’s property tax rate, but that could change if commissioners choose to fund a large number of requests from outside agencies.

The County Commission will continue its budget hearings on Wednesday from 9 a.m. to noon. The public can attend in person or by using Zoom. Meeting information and recordings of the hearings will be available on the county website. Commissioners will begin deliberations at 9 a.m. on Friday, July 12, where they can begin adjusting the recommended mill levy based on projects they want to include or exclude from the budget.

The final vote on the budget is scheduled for the County Commission meeting on Aug. 28. To view the proposed budget, visit dgcoks.gov/open-budget.

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