Lawrence has a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity for funding to combat homelessness and houselessness, according to a state official.
Andy Brown, commissioner of behavioral health services for the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, told Lawrence city and Douglas County leaders Wednesday that “I literally am going to be trying to figure out how to spend hundreds of millions of dollars.”
During the first of a two-day virtual summit Wednesday, Brown said Lawrence leaders and stakeholders should formulate a framework he could take to the state Recovery Office to convince them to spend money in Lawrence and Douglas County.
Brown said local leaders need to work on formulating a needs statement, as well as think about the long-term impacts and sustainability of what they want to do.
He told them that at least for the next 24 hours, not to limit themselves to a number — instead, “Build a system that you think Lawrence and Douglas County need, and then tell me how much that costs,” Brown said.
The buckets of money are largely coming from federal COVID relief programs.
Lawrence City Manager Craig Owens said he thought it was an “extremely exciting” gamechanger to think about what the needs are before worrying about where to scrounge up the money to make it happen.
Brown listed a number of funds and big dollar amounts available. He said he thought it was possible to leverage discretionary funds at the state level to support programming at the local level. Not all of the exact amounts are known yet, but just as a couple of examples:
Brown said $251.6 million will be going to nine Kansas metropolitan cities for discretionary use. The Kansas Legislative Research Department estimates that Lawrence will get $18.9 million of that funding, Brown said; half of that will come this year, and half next year.
Some funds will go to local school districts; other “buckets” are intended for higher education or libraries. Additional millions are set aside for education of homeless children; that money can be used to provide wraparound services and ensure that children are able to attend school and participate in activities, for instance, Brown said.
Mathew Faulk, director of housing at Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center, said part of the solution needed to be at minimum 300 housing units, about half of which would provide lifelong support for the clients who live in them. The other half could be shorter-term housing, he said.
But Faulk noted that the housing should fit the needs of the people who will live there — for instance, some folks are OK with living in an apartment-style housing and sharing walls with other people, but some aren’t, Faulk said.
Brown said he agreed that securing the brick-and-mortar places for people to live was crucial, but he also thought it would be important for the city and county to come to an agreement on how to maintain all of it into the future.
Wednesday’s summit included some interested members of the public. Those who are in attendance for part two of the summit on Thursday, open just to city and county leaders and key stakeholders, will talk about topics including potential savings from taking a housing-first perspective, Brown said.
— Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached via email at email@example.com or 785-422-6363.