Note: The Lawrence Times is offering some space for area organizations and organizers to provide updates and attempt to reach other folks who might share their mission. This post is contributed content (i.e., not produced by the Times staff). See more in our Community Voices section or see how to submit your own piece.
To the City Commissioners, City Staff, and the Lawrence Community:
We are coming to you as the affected community, organizers, advocates, and concerned community members. On February 23rd our Community Shelter made us aware of the serious repercussions and ultimate sacrifices the homeless community had to face not only this year but every year and everyday living without resources and community support. In their statement to the community, the shelter informed us of the passing of three community members experiencing homelessness during the harsh and uninhabitable weather conditions of the previous week. That week we experienced record freezing temperatures, power outages, and an utter lack of safe shelter for all of our community members. While their words shocked and enraged us, we also recognized a familiar and saddening pattern. Throughout this past year,Lawrence Mutual Aid Network and countless other organizations have banded together to not only fight the existing inequities in our community, but to take on the challenges that the pandemic intensified. Witnessing people losing their jobs, using up any and all reserve funding, and ultimately losing their own shelter and resource access, we have been left more times than not wondering how we are going to continue to share and distribute funds and services to meet a growing need for support. What we are encountering is not only a broken system that cannot support the Lawrence community, we are seeing temporary solutions to deeper issues.
To all who have stepped up this year and especially this winter to make sure shelter, food and safety was provided to all, we are thankful and honored to be in this work alongside you. Your efforts are not and should not be viewed as temporary but should be supported for long-term solutions.
This is why we are now turning to our city leadership. We need to not only end homelessness but end the potential of any community member feeling as if they do not have resources or options to feel secure in their own housing. We understand that homelessness is a systemic inequity that has historically been viewed as shifting the blame to those who are experiencing homelessness rather than creating policy and funding to address one of the root issues these community members are facing: not having sustainable, permanent housing.
We also understand that this is a big undertaking and a shift in how we currently serve our community in need. We, as a group of grassroots organizers along with those who have signed on to this statement, fully commit to addressing all issues, creating sustainable solutions, and listening to those affected within Lawrence. We are pledging to support and be accountable for our neighbors and ask that city commissioners do the same.
The following are our demands to the city commission to begin working on ending homelessness in Lawrence, KS.
- City Commissioners must make a commitment to the Lawrence Community Shelter for funding of at least $500,000 annually for rapid re-housing assistance to their guests.
- City Commissioners must listen to those experiencing homelessness, understand their needs, and uplift these community members by inviting them to participate in committees and boards that address poverty and housing when they have the capacity.
- City Commissioners and staff must work with advocates and organizers within the community to create Housing First policy and funding for the city.
- City Commissioners must evaluate bids for city funding and prioritize projects and initiatives that enact best practices of Housing First methodologies.
- We must understand and separate the clear differences between addressing homelessness and affordable housing. These two groups should not be treated as the same issue when homelessness is a systemic barrier to having shelter in the first place.
- City Commissioners and staff must work with advocates and organizers to create policy that would clearly state homelessness and those in poverty as a protected class.
- City Commissioners and staff must work with advocates and organizers to hold landlords accountable during our current crisis to accept all forms of financial assistance to those needing help to maintain their housing.
- We must have a commitment from all landlords to support their tenants during this pandemic and beyond, regardless of their current income.
We send this statement and these demands in solidarity with organizations who have been fighting homelessness for decades in this city. We firmly believe that “if a guest of any shelter leaves without permanent housing and goes back to the streets, there has been a failure on the part of those advocating to support them.” We need to see an end to homelessness. We need sustainable solutions that address the roots of homelessness. We need to lift up those who have lived and are living this reality to understand what they need to feel resourced.
“What is the victory if people return to the streets?”
We must work together, now.
Lawrence Mutual Aid Network