Lawrence’s Winter Emergency Shelter closes; nearly 200 volunteers helped keep it running this year

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The City of Lawrence’s Winter Emergency Shelter has closed for the season — and maybe for the last time. The city is not planning to use the Community Building for a winter shelter next year, the Parks & Recreation Advisory Board learned Monday.

Mitch Young, park district supervisor and a member of the city’s Housing Initiatives Division, reported to the board that the WES closed at 7 a.m. Monday. That night would be the first for the Lawrence Community Shelter to operate with capacity for 125 people.

Throughout the winter, there were about 3,900 stays at the overnight emergency shelter, and 187 volunteers worked nearly 1,000 hours there, Young said.

The WES was open for 101 consecutive nights, Young said, which was different from the previous year when it had only been open on nights when the temperature was expected to be below freezing.

Derek Rogers, director of Parks & Recreation, said the increased use also added to the wear and tear on the Community Building, 115 W. 11th St. It’s closed for maintenance, including to have its floors refinished, through March 24.

“We don’t plan on being there next year — I think this is our final year at the Community Building,” Young said. “Could that change? Very possible.”

But the city hopes alternative options will mitigate the need to use the Community Building as an emergency shelter next year. The city has partnered with the Lawrence Community Shelter, and plans for a Pallet Shelter Village later this spring are still in the works.

LCS reduced its capacity to 55 to 60 people in 2019. It has remained at a reduced capacity due to the pandemic, staff shortages and a higher-needs population for the last couple of years. City staff helped the LCS prepare last week to expand its nighttime capacity to 125 people; however, only 22 to 24 people will be able to stay during waking hours. (Read more about that at this link.)

The North Lawrence campsite for people experiencing homelessness is still expected to stay open at least until the city establishes its Pallet Shelter Village. The location for that site is still to be determined, Young said Monday, but it is anticipated to open in June.

Young said there are about 50 tents at the site now. The city placed a hygiene trailer there last week so residents can shower when staff members are present. The trailer is seeing good usage, Young said.

The city also has laundry trailers it had purchased in 2020; however, “We can’t bring a laundry trailer over there; there’s just not enough infrastructure to do it,” Young said. But there is a volunteer who picks up laundry almost every night, and LCS has laundry facilities available, he said.

Young told the board it was a successful year for the WES because no one froze to death. He said there were a couple of cases where people who weren’t staying at the shelter got frostbite, but no lives were lost because of the cold weather.

The Parks & Recreation Advisory Board meets at 5:30 p.m. on the second Mondays of each month.

Note: This post has been corrected from a previous version.

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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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