Editorial: Hotel shelter project deserves thanks, further thought
photo by: Journal-World Photo Illustration
A wonderful sign of the human spirit was on display this holiday season as city officials, local nonprofits, a local business and community volunteers came together to fill an urgent need.
On Dec. 23, the city finalized an agreement with Lawrence’s Days Inn hotel to serve as a temporary shelter for homeless individuals who otherwise would find themselves battling the harsh elements of Kansas winter nights. This is the second such hotel project in the community, with the other one operating at the Econo Lodge University hotel.
This latest project undoubtedly took a lot of last-minute planning and unexpected work from many parties. It is a testament to Lawrence’s community spirit of compassion that the work got done and that individuals are now being safely housed at the hotel.
To list everyone involved would be a perilous task because somebody inadvertently would be omitted. Suffice to say, the city of Lawrence has played a role, the hotel operators have played a role, and dozens and dozens of ordinary people who show extraordinary kindness have played a role. They all deserve our thanks, and they would love our help. You can find out how to volunteer or otherwise help at the Lawrence Winter Shelter Facebook page.
It is comforting to know that in emergency situations the community has people who can run over hurdles and cut red tape to simply get the job done.
Communities, though, should endeavor to not operate in emergency mode any more than necessary. While the important work of getting people off the cold, dangerous winter streets is happening, community leaders also need to do the hard work of examining the environment in which this emergency emerged.
The community’s programs for homeless individuals continue to be disjointed. At this moment, the community has one traditional homeless shelter that receives significant support from city and county funds, yet is controlled by an outside entity. The community also has a city-approved tent community that has benefited from hundreds of thousands of dollars of pandemic grant money. It has the two hotel programs mentioned above, which also are both receiving public dollars. In addition, there are numerous fully private operations, including the Family Promise program that has done much to help homeless families in need in conjunction with area churches. There is also a drop-in center and various meal programs run by organizations.
In sum, there is a lot, and that is good. It is again a sign of the compassion that this community wants to give. At some point, though, an argument needs to be made and won that compassion will go further if it is coordinated.
Some of what is going on today appears pretty unsustainable. For instance, the latest hotel project received $50,000 in funding to begin operating on Dec. 23. Usage of the program will dictate how long the $50,000 lasts, but the city is hopeful it will fund the program until at least Jan. 15. Again, you do what you need to do to get through an emergency situation, but those numbers don’t look sustainable.
Hopefully this latest emergency will remind city and county leaders of the need to dig deeper into the operations of the Lawrence Community Shelter. The homeless shelter on the far eastern edge of Lawrence is the most logical foundation of any community-wide effort to help homeless individuals. However, it is not clear that the Community Shelter facility is being fully utilized, it is uncertain whether its finances are being managed in the best possible way, and there are legitimate questions about whether the city and county should have greater control of the organization’s operating board, given the financial support taxpayers have given the shelter in recent years.
That would be a good starting point, but one that also may ruffle some feathers. It shouldn’t. Lawrence needs to figure out a way to celebrate its truly remarkable trait of compassion for the less fortunate. It doesn’t exist in every community, and a big reason it does in Lawrence is because people take action on their own rather than waiting to be told to do so. The makeshift hotel effort that came together this holiday season is a reminder of why that spirit should not be quashed in Lawrence.
But let’s also remember that compassion and coordination are not enemies. The only thing better than doing something good on your own is coming together with others to do even more good.