Temporary cold-weather shelter for Lawrence homeless seeks overnight volunteers, donations

photo by: Nick Gerik

First United Methodist Church, 946 Vermont St., is pictured Sunday, Dec. 15, 2019.

A temporary overnight shelter for the homeless is seeking volunteers and donations to help it keep running in downtown Lawrence through the winter.

The Lawrence Winter Shelter opened in the First United Methodist Church, 946 Vermont St., on Dec. 15 to help address a shortage of emergency shelter for the homeless. The winter shelter runs entirely on volunteer work and donations, and it is in need of volunteers to staff overnight shifts.

Kristi Hill, who has a master’s degree in social work and was formerly the principal at Pinckney Elementary School, is the coordinator of the Lawrence Winter Shelter. The shelter is open from 8 p.m. to 7 a.m. any night the temperature drops below freezing, and Hill said the shelter’s biggest need is overnight volunteers so it can continue to keep the doors open.

Hill, who leaves after the first couple of hours and then returns at 5 a.m., said the night is broken into two six-hour shifts — one from 7:30 p.m. until 1:30 a.m. and the other from 1:30 a.m. until 7:30 a.m. Volunteers can also split a shift with a friend.

“It sounds daunting because it’s 1:30 in the morning, but actually it’s really quiet and everyone is sleeping,” Hill said. “There’s Wi-Fi; folks can work or read a book, that kind of thing, while they’re supervising.”

City code allows religious organizations to operate temporary shelters for the homeless without a special use permit under certain capacity restrictions. On the nights the shelter is open, Hill said it typically has about 12 to 15 guests. Though the shelter does not provide meals, it does provide snacks for the guests when they come in and granola bars and coffee in the morning.

Hill said most guests are very tired and grateful for the place to stay, and she said that being able to provide the shelter can save lives when it’s cold.

“It’s such an important thing; I can’t say it enough,” Hill said. “One thing I have found is that everybody who has stayed has been so grateful and appreciative just to have some place to come in.”

Those who would like to volunteer can send an email to lawrencewintershelter@outlook.com with what times they’re available to work. Hill said the shelter has volunteers to cover New Year’s Eve but still needs additional volunteers to cover this coming Friday, Saturday and Sunday, when overnight temperatures are forecast to drop below 32 degrees.

In addition to volunteers, the shelter needs sleeping mats, individually packaged healthy snacks, coffee and disposable cups with lids. Monetary donations for supplies are also being sought and can be contributed online through the Douglas County Community Foundation website or through the First United Methodist Church website. Those wishing to donate can also drop off or send checks to the church and are advised to put “Lawrence Winter Shelter” in the memo line.

The Lawrence Community Shelter, 3655 E. 25th St., has been operating at a reduced capacity because of financial issues, and some homeless people have been forced to sleep outdoors as a result. Earlier this year, the shelter increased the required number of staff who work directly with guests from two to four people. The staffing change was based on recommendations from a consultant hired by the City of Lawrence and Douglas County. The shelter subsequently requested a funding increase from both local governments, but that requested increase was not fully funded and the shelter decided to reduce capacity rather than go back to running at full capacity with only two staff members working directly with guests, as the Journal-World previously reported.

Related stories

Dec. 14 — Downtown church to open temporary cold-weather shelter for homeless

Nov. 16 — Fundraising campaign allows Lawrence Community Shelter to increase its overnight capacity

Nov. 2 — Homeless shelter remains at reduced capacity as temperatures fall, launches new fundraising campaign with $20,000 match

Sept. 15 — Reduction in homeless shelter capacity raises question: Where can people legally sleep?

Sept. 4 — About 25 people forced to leave homeless shelter had nowhere to go; some expected to camp

Aug. 29 — Swell of donations helps find housing for some, but homeless shelter still expects to force about 25 people to leave Friday

Aug. 25 — Donations, supplies and volunteers sought to assist dozens of homeless people who must soon leave Lawrence’s shelter

Aug. 9 — Lawrence homeless shelter announces plan to cut guest count by half, citing funding shortfall


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