Kansas town looking to create pallet shelter village to address homeless in community
LAWRENCE, Kan. (KMBC) -- There’s a new plan close to being finalized to build a new community of temporary shelters or cabins for Lawrence’s homeless population.
“Part of our mission here is that everybody has a safe and functional neighborhood to live in,” said Craig Owens, Lawrence City Manager.
The Lawrence City Council already approved a plan to use $4.5 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds to build the community of 75 cabins with a company called Pallet.
The Pallet Shelters or cabins feature a bed, heat, air conditioning and a locking door.
Similar shelter communities have been set up in other cities, including Fayetteville, Arkansas.
The Fayetteville site features 20 100-square foot shelters, bathrooms, showers, support services and a community garden.
Currently, the Lawrence Community Shelter can serve up to 50 people.
But the current Lawrence homeless count is at least 232 people.
The result is some homeless people camp out in tents.
“One of the things that we wanted to do coming out of the pandemic was to address this issue and part of our addressing it, along with community partners, is to do something better than tent camping for some of the people in our community,” Owens said.
He also said the city is negotiating a deal for multiple possible sites for the new cabins camp.
But a deal and site haven’t been finalized yet.
“It sounds like a good possibility,” said Stuart Dehning, a resident at the Lawrence Community Shelter.
Dehning said he’s been at the shelter 100 days.
He’s concerned about being kicked out with the demand for that space so high.
Lindsey Olson just arrived at the shelter.
She also thinks the Pallet Shelters village is a good idea.
“If it was a better environment for your outsides, then maybe your inside will feel better and maybe you can get the good energy to go,” Olson said.
According to a study of how a similar shelter area did in Vancouver, Washington, where there used to be a homeless camp, that community found a 30 percent drop in police calls to that same area in six months.
The study also found 74 referrals to partner agencies in six months including medical care, mental health check-ins, education, employment, and housing.
The Lawrence Pallet Shelters community is part of a comprehensive plan to build and provide more affordable housing.
“Most of our solutions are going to take a lot of people's involvement,” Owens said.
Lawrence Community Shelter Interim Director Melanie Valdez said the city’s homeless issues won’t be easily solved.
She said most people she sees are chronically homeless due to addiction or mental health issues.
Valdez said she’s working with the city to expand the Lawrence Community Shelter from holding 50 to 125 people.
She believes what she called “permanent supportive housing” is the best way to help chronically homeless people.
If all goes according to plan, the Pallet Shelters community in Lawrence will be up and running in June.
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