Post updated to add responses from the city at 3:55 p.m. Wednesday, March 15:
Residents of the North Lawrence campsite for people experiencing homelessness say city workers have denied some people showers in the hygiene trailer recently placed at the site, and a woman alleges that one city worker harassed her as she showered.
Multiple houseless people say city staff members have denied them access to the hygiene trailer at the campsite because of where their tents are located. Only people whose tents are placed on the south side of the camp are considered part of the city-sanctioned support site; therefore, they are the only ones allowed to shower, camp residents said.
Rules posted at the trailer say it is “only available for support site residents who have signed an agreement that they will follow the expectations set by the City.”
People whose tents are on the north side — even those who have signed program agreements with the city to stay at the site — are not able to shower, multiple camp residents have told us.
Tiffany Copp wanted to shower so she would be clean when she saw her children the following day.
“I have a visit and I wanted to be clean so I can go be around my kids,” Copp said.
On Tuesday evening when Copp went to take a shower, she said, a city worker told her she would not be able to do so while she stayed at the north side of the campsite.
Copp feels safest where her tent is located now, she said. And she wants to stay around people she knows will watch out for her and her belongings. Moving her tent 30 or so feet over to the “sanctioned” site, she said, is a scary prospect that she refuses to consider.
“I told them I’m willing to sign the rules again but I am not moving over there,” she said. “There’s [drug use] over there … And I can’t stand all that yelling. So I’m not going to put myself in danger.”
Other camp residents who stay on the north side of the support site say they were also denied use of the shower.
Jenn Adams, known as the “camp mom,” stays on the north side. She said she showered, but she didn’t ask anyone and just went in before anyone could stop her as someone was leaving.
One woman who stays at the north side of the support site said that a city worker let her shower, but she was told to keep it “hush hush” because allowing residents of that side to shower was against city rules.
“It was disappointing to discover that showers are only available to people living on the south side of the North Lawrence camp,” local advocate Claven Elliott-Snow told Lawrence city commissioners at their meeting on Tuesday. “When someone north of the imaginary line wants to take a shower, they are denied access even if the showers are sitting empty.”
The showers are generally locked unless city workers are present, and only one person at a time is allowed to shower. Individuals are limited to 20 minutes in the shower, according to the posted rules.
Brandon McGuire, assistant city manager, said via email Wednesday afternoon, “The hygiene trailers are available to people who live at the City-run support site. Shower and other hygiene amenities are available in the community, including showers at City of Lawrence recreation centers.”
Harassment report against a city worker at the support site
A city employee was stationed at the support site on Sunday afternoon when a woman who stays at the north side of the campsite used the hygiene trailer over the weekend. The woman took a shower at around 2 p.m, she said, and no one told her she couldn’t.
As she went inside, the city worker offered to scrub her back for her, she said, but she ignored the comment and closed the door.
There were knocks on the hygiene trailer door within a few minutes, she said. Each time she called out, “What?” the city worker asked if she was still showering, she said. The third time she heard the knocks, the woman became agitated. She opened the door wrapped in a towel.
The city worker asked if she wanted some fruit snacks, and she said no and closed the door so she could shower, she said. The city worker knocked two more times, the woman said, until finally, frustrated, she ended her shower prematurely and dressed.
The woman said that once she was out of the shower, she saw the city worker leaving because his shift was over. He’d offered the woman a pack of cigarettes earlier, and he called her toward his car. When she went to retrieve it, the man took her picture with his phone, she said.
The woman became upset and asked why he took her picture, she said.
The city worker said the picture didn’t turn out so it didn’t matter that he’d taken it, the woman said. Disturbed, the woman decided to make a police report and bring the matter to the city.
According to information Lawrence police shared about the incident, a 36-year-old man witnessed the man taking photos of the woman. The information police provided does not say that the man works for the city.
Adams said she saw the city worker take the woman’s picture, too.
“He waved a pack of cigarettes in the air, like she could have a cigarette or something,” Adams said. “So she walked over there, and out of the corner of my eye, I see the flash on his camera. He took a picture of her, and wouldn’t tell anybody why.”
The woman told a police officer that “she asked the man to leave her alone, but he continued to approach her, and took a photo of her. … After speaking with the officer, the 73 year old man said that he would leave the reporting party alone,” Kim Murphree, acting public information officer for the Lawrence Police Department, said via email Tuesday.
The woman said city staff members have told her they’re investigating the incident. Camp residents said they haven’t seen the worker at the site since the woman made the report.
We left a voicemail and sent an email to McGuire on Tuesday asking about the alleged harassment, and whether the man who was working at the support site had ever received trauma-informed training. Wednesday afternoon, McGuire responded that the man is “no longer employed by the City of Lawrence.”
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Chansi Long (she/her) reported for The Lawrence Times from July 2022 through August 2023. Read more of her work for the Times here.