Post updated at 5:35 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 5:
The Lawrence city manager says staff members will evaluate and seek to fill the homeless programs coordinator position, following the resignation of the first person to hold the job.
Jenn Wolsey tendered her two weeks’ notice from the position on Dec. 30. Her last day will be Jan. 13, she announced Tuesday.
“We appreciate her passionate service to our community and we know that she will continue her good work that unfortunately, is needed in every city,” City Manager Craig Owens said in an emailed statement Thursday.
Porter Arneill, a spokesperson for the city, confirmed that the city will continue to fund the homeless programs coordinator position; however, its duties might change a bit.
“As with any position, we will conduct an evaluation of the position and make adjustments to the duties, resources and qualifications that we need,” Owens said.
Arneill said the city did not have a timeline for recruitment as of Thursday.
Wolsey wrote in a public Facebook post announcing her resignation Tuesday 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 also 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.
Owens wrote Thursday that Wolsey “has provided suggestions which are valuable and appreciated as we move forward, especially as this is new space for the City.”
“This work is complex and it will take years to get to where we as a community need to be,” Owens said in his statement. “During this time, it is important that our community members are supportive of those who are unsheltered and help support the work of our many community partners to make progress in the complex and challenging work of ending chronic homelessness in our community. This will take stamina, investment, coordination and teamwork. We are grateful for all who have and continue to invest in this effort. Our recruitment of people to help in this work and in particular to attract people who have experience and background in social services and supporting people who are experiencing homelessness is ongoing.”
The city’s Housing Initiatives Division and other staff members and volunteers will continue to provide support at the Winter Emergency Shelter, at the campsite in North Lawrence, and throughout the community where people remain unsheltered, according to Owens’ statement.
“With winter weather challenges, these are only short term options that we are working hard to provide until we can provide better, longer-term options. Our medium and long term plans will carry forward to provide much better emergency sheltering options,” Owens said. “Each day, many dedicated people are motivated by and centering around the people in our community who need shelter and our community’s support.”
Job openings will be posted at lawrenceks.org/jobs, Owens said. The city also still needs volunteers to help cover nightly shifts at the Winter Emergency Shelter into March, Owens said. Those who are interested can sign up at this link.
The city had previously posted a paid position for a Winter Emergency Shelter monitor on its jobs site. Arneill said Thursday the position was “inadvertently taken off due to a change in our software systems. We are working to get it re-posted.”
The city has said that staff will continue efforts to determine the next steps to establish a longer-term support site, or sites, by the time the WES and the North Lawrence campsite are scheduled to cease operations on March 12.
One project that city staff believe will help alleviate emergency sheltering needs is a modular sheltering project, estimated to cost about $4.5 million. The Lawrence City Commission approved the expenditure from federal COVID-19 relief funds during its meeting on Dec. 20.
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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.
”I wanted the full truth to come out because this community deserves transparency. I messed up. The city messed up. We need to do better. Our unsheltered neighbors deserve better,” Jenn Wolsey, homeless programs coordinator for the City of Lawrence, writes in this column.
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.