City of Lawrence’s homeless programs coordinator to step down

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Jenn Wolsey, homeless programs coordinator for the City of Lawrence, is resigning from her position.

Wolsey wrote in a public Facebook post Tuesday that her last day with the city will be Jan. 13. She still plans to be around, but only in the role of an advocate, she wrote.

Wolsey wrote in a column last month that she had advocated to keep a city-sanctioned campsite in North Lawrence open, but that her supervisors dismissed her concerns and moved forward with a plan to close the camp anyway. City management reversed course a few days later. Wolsey wrote that she had not been given direction of what to do after the city decided to keep the site open — but that she had also been warned not to take action without guidance.

On Tuesday, she wrote that “Unfortunately not much has changed in reference to support” from city leadership.

She shared that she has met “some of the most amazing people in this community, those that are housed and unhoused, human service providers, business leaders, community members, and advocates.”

But she also wrote that this community has a lot of work to do before it will ever reach functional zero homelessness, which city and county leaders have pledged to do.

“(The community) can’t keep doing what is has been doing for the last 20 years and think anything is going to change!” Wolsey wrote. “Real change will only come when new courageous ideas are tried and accountability is implemented.”

She wrote that Douglas County “easily” has more than 300 individuals experiencing homelessness, and more than half of those people are unsheltered. She wrote that most are in the Lawrence area, and many of them consider Lawrence their home and they have been here for two or more years.

“I have walked with and talked with the majority of these unsheltered individuals,” Wolsey wrote. “Not one of them has told me they hope to remain homeless. All of them report wanting housing but many of them have given up on ever getting housed. Housing is a basic need! Folks just do better in all areas of their lives, when they have a safe permanent place to call home.”

Wolsey wrote that data quality is a significant struggle for the community, and true street outreach is desperately needed.

“We need to learn the names, unique needs, and goals of all our neighbors experiencing homelessness, if we are ever going to gain traction toward solutions,” she wrote.

She hopes that she helped start a real helpful conversation about homelessness, housing and solutions, and that she helped people experiencing homelessness elevate their voices and see that there are people who really care, she wrote.

“Those that are unhoused are people who have feelings, hopes, dreams, and aspirations,” Wolsey wrote. “Some of them make poor choices but not all of them do (this group is not much different then all of us). I ask you all to please be gentle to this group of folks. Instead of asking ‘why are you like this’, maybe ask ‘what happened to you that caused you to be in this place and to be making these choices’. What you might find out is that there has been a lot of trauma people are just trying to survive from.”

“… My last request is that this community makes a commitment to come together to find a way to continue to become One Lawrence, where everyone has a place to belong and thrive! Lawrence Strong!” she wrote.

We have reached out to Porter Arneill, a spokesperson for the city, seeking comment for this article.

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Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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City staff member says management ignored her input on North Lawrence campsite for unhoused people

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The city’s homeless programs coordinator says a decision to close a North Lawrence campsite for people experiencing homelessness was solidified before she was consulted, and though she advocated against it, her supervisors dismissed her concerns and moved forward with the plan anyway. 

Chansi Long/Lawrence Times

‘Who made this decision?’ City administrators address move to evict people from North Lawrence camp, reversal

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Over a span of five days, people living at the campsite in North Lawrence were told they would soon need to move; then the city reversed course. In addition to the emotional rollercoaster the ordeal brought for residents of the camp, it has raised questions about decisions made behind closed doors.

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