Lori Lindaman said she’s received little help from city employees at the campsite in North Lawrence since she started staying there about two weeks ago.
Instead, she said she’s had to focus strictly on survival. Lori is using a wheelchair after a hip displacement, so her husband, William Lindaman, finds supplies during the day to keep them alive.
“We have no income whatsoever, and we’ve got to find our food, our water, stuff like that,” Lori said.
One of William’s obstacles is a lack of identification necessary for employment. He has a job lined up but needed help gaining ID so he could start work.
City workers have failed to help him with his housing barriers, he said. Without a phone or ID, or basic necessities like food and water, he has had to concentrate on keeping himself and his wife alive.
Meanwhile, two city workers have been embedded off and on at the support camp since Thursday, camp residents said. After some camp residents complained about a lack of city support, the city stationed two workers to periodically monitor camp activity.
One of the monitors is Cicely Thornton, homeless programs project specialist. The other is a Parks and Recreation employee who declined to identify himself and whom the city would not name.
The city-sanctioned campsite, put in place in the fall, was intended to be a central space for people experiencing homelessness to stay that had amenities, portable restrooms, food resources, and where service providers could go to meet folks where they are. City leaders have said the camp will remain open through March 12.
Over the past few weeks, we have sent email and phone requests asking for information about the city’s management plan for the support camp. No one from the city has directly answered any of the questions sent via email or left on voicemail.
On Monday afternoon, we went to the support camp and asked Thornton in person if she had a moment to answer some questions. She said no, and advised us of the camp’s no visitor policy.
From around 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. Monday, Thornton and the Parks and Rec employee sat in their respective cars. Thornton appeared to be working on her laptop with her car engine running. The Parks and Rec employee observed camp residents from a city vehicle. He got out twice to stand and stretch, and once to hide behind the vehicle when we started taking photos.
He spoke to one camp resident: Vance Swallow.
“They just do a walk-through and sit there and I don’t know,” Swallow shrugged. “They only interact with me.”
Swallow, a veteran and camp leader, said the Parks and Rec employee is kind, but doesn’t do anything productive.
“They’re monitoring us. They’re just eyeballing us,” Swallow said.
Camp leader “Mama” Jenn Adams said the city has abandoned the support camp for the Winter Emergency Shelter, diverting donation requests to that venue. She said the paid city workers who come by do little more than sit in their cars.
“There’s no community engagement,” Adams said.
Several residents voiced similar concerns during the Lawrence City Commission meeting last week.
The camp was completely without water until community member Kevin Elliott-Snow donated some supplies over the weekend.
“It’s dire,” he said. “They were out of water and blankets and coats. … They have been abandoned but are still being asked to help support the train depot and Shaw Park camps.”
Many camp residents said they stay at the support site in North Lawrence because they don’t feel safe or secure at the overnight Winter Emergency Shelter, housed downtown in the Community Building. The WES requires occupants to leave at 7 a.m.
“I tried it out for three days. It’s horrible,” Swallow said. “We had to leave at 7. It’s freezing outside. Where are we going to go? Everybody just goes and sits by the park benches and huddles up together and drinks alcohol because you can’t do anything else and it doesn’t warm you up, but it makes you forget about the cold.”
Leaving at 7 a.m. in a wheelchair with nowhere to go is not ideal for Lori.
Previously, she’d stayed at the Lawrence Community Shelter for some weeks, but she said LCS separated her from William after she broke a rule by having visitors over to the Monarch Village tiny home where they were staying during Christmastime.
“I’m a Native American handicapped woman and they kicked me out (of Monarch Village) because I had visitors,” she said. “It would be different if we were dealing drugs.”
Lori said she’d had family over to watch movies — a violation of LCS policies.
Melanie Valdez, interim executive director at LCS, said she could not talk about a specific client, but she confirmed that shelter inhabitants may not have guests either in the Monarch Village tiny houses or inside the shelter.
“If they are unwilling to meet those expectations and it creates an issue with safety or supervision, we let them know that we are unable to continue services at that time because it puts others at risk,” Valdez wrote in an email.
As a consequence, Lori had to give up her Monarch Village slot and go inside the shelter, where she was separated from William. Lori said this made it difficult for her to shower because her husband helps her. Valdez said LCS makes special accommodations for its populations, and it has never turned down a request of this nature.
Lori has a different story. Thinking she would have to accept showering support from a stranger, she decided to move to the support camp “to get some help” toward housing.
The current city employees seem to have minimal investment in helping Lori or William access housing or basic resources, Lori said. The former homeless programs coordinator did seem committed to helping houseless folks, Lori said.
“Jenn Wolsey is one who does care,” Lori said. “It was pouring rain and she was in the mud trying to put the tents down. She dives right in with us.”
Wolsey continues to provide contributions and emotional support in a volunteer capacity since she resigned earlier this month, according to camp residents.
With some support from the city, Lori and William could redirect their attention away from survival and toward housing, she said.
“We don’t wanna live here forever,” Lori said. “(They should) help us get out of here. We’re stuck.”
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Chansi Long (she/her), Lawrence life reporter, can be reached at clong (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.