Lawrence City Commission approves plans for Pallet Shelter Village on former Veritas property

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Post last updated at 11:46 p.m. Tuesday, March 21:

The Lawrence City Commission has approved the purchase of land on North Michigan Street and a contract for temporary shelters for people experiencing homelessness.


The former location of Veritas Christian School, 256 N. Michigan St., will be the site of the Pallet Shelter Village. The land purchase and project, estimated at $1.84 million altogether and to be paid from federal COVID-19 relief funds, is now on a timeline to provide temporary cabin-style sheltering for up to 75 people starting this July.

The commissioners on Tuesday approved a $725,000 land purchase, a contract for $1.114 million of temporary shelters for people experiencing homelessness, and a resolution suspending zoning and code enforcement on that property for a year. The commission in December approved budgeting $4.5 million of American Rescue Plan Act money — federal COVID-19 relief funds — to purchase modular homes from Pallet, a Washington state-based “Public Benefit Corporation.”

The commission heard from about 40 people, about three-quarters of whom opposed the plans.

Residents of the Pinkney neighborhood have voiced numerous concerns, including how the site will be managed. Many said they were taken aback when they found out about the plan by reading about it in the news just six days ago, and they were upset about a lack of transparency from the city.

Some raised concerns about safety issues such as fires at Pallet shelter villages in other cities. Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical division chiefs present at the meeting said the site plan Pallet had presented looked sufficient for their trucks to access all areas of the site if a fire were to start.

Others pushed back against some commenters’ insinuations that people experiencing homelessness are going to be inherently dangerous or harmful.

Staff members and parents of students at the Children’s Learning Center, which serves infants through kindergarteners at 205 N. Michigan St. about 1,000 feet from the site, voiced concerns about risks or perceived safety risks of the shelter site being located so close.

Commissioner Brad Finkeldei said the Ballard Center, where he served on the board, had people experiencing homelessness in and out of the building constantly. And he said that Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center’s homeless outreach team is operating in the same building as the Community Children’s Center. He said there are models in which very successful early childhood centers are coexisting with the homeless population, and there are examples right here in town.

Commissioner Amber Sellers said it was time to have a conversation about “If not here, where?” She said the city has to be innovative in its work, and that it has committed to addressing affordable housing and homelessness.

“We have to start somewhere,” she said. “If we don’t, then we’ll never know where we’re gonna go. And we’ll continue to cycle and cycle and cycle.”


She said there are some individuals who are unhoused who are excited about this opportunity, because it will give them the first step to being housed.

“Regardless of mental health, substance abuse, everyone should have a choice,” Sellers said. “It’s not ‘us or them,’ ‘you or I;’ it’s ‘we.’ We have to start thinking that way.”

City staff members have previously said they don’t plan to have the Pallet Shelter Village in place for more than three to five years. City Manager Craig Owens said Tuesday that there are 850 affordable housing units that the city expects to have in town within the next three to five years, and the city doesn’t want to run this temporary intervention for too long.

The commission voted 4-1 on the land purchase, with Vice Mayor Bart Littlejohn opposed. He said as a longtime resident of Pinkney neighborhood, he thought this was a good project, but he wanted to call attention to the fact that the city needs to start looking for other places to put these kinds of projects, and for other partners to work with.

Commissioners voted unanimously in favor of the contract with Pallet and the suspension of zoning and code enforcement.

The city is planning to contract with a to-be-determined third party to staff the camp. The Lawrence City Commission will consider the contract, or contracts, at a future meeting.

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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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