North Lawrence camp residents say violence and chaos is increasing, and the new fence hasn’t helped

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‘I don’t know that anybody out here is gonna go into Pallet … the city has blown it with them,’ one camp resident said.

People living at the city-run campsite in North Lawrence say they’re struggling with increased interlopers, assaults, theft and drug activity in the week since the city installed a fence intended to prevent visitors, and a woman said she was raped at the camp on Sunday. 


Tension, anger and fear at the campsite are increasing. At times, the feeling hanging over the camp is a foreboding one, said Jenn Adams — known as the “camp mom” — who has experienced violence while living outside before.

“I felt safer out at Sandra Shaw after my throat had been cut than I do here now,” she said. “I don’t feel safe, and I’m across the street.” 

‘Strategically working toward’ no visitors

The city had waited months to build the fence that now stands at the entry of the campsite because of a lack of staffing — without staffing, it would have been impossible to enforce the no-visitor rule. 

“We can’t sometimes enforce a policy and sometimes not,” Laura McCabe, a spokesperson for the city, said last week. 

The fence, built April 4, is supposed to keep visitors out of the city-run campsite for people experiencing homelessness, as well as separate that side from the unsanctioned camp across the street, where Adams stays.

At the fence’s front is an opening that is several feet wide. It’s one of two spaces in the fence intended for entries; the other has a gate that can open and close.

Molly Adams/Lawrence Times Near the entrance to the North Lawrence campsite for people experiencing homelessness, there is an opening that is several feet wide in the newly installed fence. Some residents say the fence has not stopped people from entering.

Although some of the residents of the unsanctioned side have signed program agreements, city staff members have said those whose tents sit on the city-owned parcel of land roughly 30 feet away from the sanctioned camp can’t use amenities such as the hygiene trailer. Now that the fence is in place, they’re not supposed to visit friends at the sanctioned camp or join communal meals, either.

On Monday, a camp resident said they have been staying on the sanctioned campsite for two months without signing a program agreement, and they believe there are others who also haven’t signed agreements.

McCabe said via email Monday that the city is “strategically working toward” its goal of enforcing the no-visitors policy to “help provide safety and security to support site residents.” 

“With staffing now at 24/7 capacity, we are in a position to effectively monitor camp activity, and that entails revising camp agreements and policy to align with what is widely considered industry and advocate best practice,” McCabe said. 

But since the fence has been installed, some camp residents say the rule is applied arbitrarily. Adams said the fence has failed to prevent people from entering the campsite.

“If their little fence was doing its job, and their little workers were doing their jobs, it wouldn’t be so easy to get in there, because they will let anybody in, anybody except (The Lawrence Times) and (Lawrence Accountability),” Adams said. “They are the only two that seem to run into obstacles trying to come in.”

Shortly before this article was published, the winds had knocked the fence down.

Violence at the campsite

Over the weekend, an overarching chaos pervaded the camp.

A woman said she was raped at the campsite late Sunday night. She filed a police report and has received medical care. (We are publishing this information anonymously with her consent.)

The man accused of the attack had not signed a program agreement to stay at the site, residents said; however, for the past several weeks, he had been sleeping there, sometimes in someone else’s tent.

Molly Adams/Lawrence Times A brochure from the Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence

The city would not provide information on whether the man had signed a program agreement — or if he hadn’t, why he was there. 

“We won’t discuss private matters concerning specific residents, names of people trespassed at the site, nor the names of people with signed site agreements in order to respect their privacy,” McCabe said.

She did not answer whether the city has a current roster of people who are staying at the camp.

Douglas County jail records did not indicate that the man had been charged with rape as of Wednesday afternoon. He was arrested on warrants from another Kansas county, however, and he has not returned to the camp.

On Saturday night, a man allegedly dined-and-dashed from Johnny’s Tavern and sought refuge at the camp, Adams and others said.

Slipping in unnoticed by city staff, the man started an argument with resident Lori Lindaman, who was sitting outside her tent. 

Billy and Lori Lindaman

“He was high on something, and not a tent city resident, so why was he here?” Lindaman said.  

Lindaman’s husband, Billy, saw that the man intended to hit Lindaman. He called out a signal for help, and a half-dozen campers sprinted over. 

“I was impressed again at my family,” Lindaman said. “They all came running out for me. I love my tribe.” 

Adams said she heard the commotion, so she came “flying out and over there.”

“I noticed there was an altercation taking place right in front of the shower trailer,” Adams said. “The city people are in the (office) trailer. … Nobody was coming out or anything and as I’m walking up, I’m like, ‘Hey, can’t you hear that? There’s something going on out here. Maybe you should be out here.’ And that’s when they stick their heads out. But the city didn’t call the cops. They did nothing.” 

Four overdoses

On Friday, four camp residents overdosed, and two of them required multiple doses of Narcan, an opioid overdose reversal drug, to be revived.

Someone formerly on the city’s trespass list had entered the campsite — a known fentanyl source, according to several camp residents who take a stand against the drug. 

“The fence didn’t keep (them) out,” Lindaman said. “What is the purpose of that damn fence?”

Lindaman said she and other residents alerted city staff that the previously trespassed person was at the camp. Staff checked tents to have the person removed, but they either stayed hidden or left undetected. 

Vance Swallow

Vance Swallow, a camp leader, administered Narcan to at least one of the people who overdosed.

“It made me sick to see Vance Narcan like it’s just mechanical,” Lindaman said. “Made me puke to see it. He just Narcan’d like it’s normal, with no emotion. He’s a Marine. They train them to disengage.”

McCabe did not answer a question asking whether city staff members have been trained to administer Narcan.

“I can tell you Narcan is a nasal spray that is easy to administer and has been done successfully many times by both camp residents and first responders and there is no issue with our supply of Narcan,” McCabe said. 

More health and safety concerns

On Sunday night, a resident screamed at the camp, angry his speaker had been stolen. 

Several others were frustrated that another resident had been shooting up drugs at the site; they were disillusioned that there was nothing to prohibit such activity from occurring.

Also over the weekend, a camp resident inadvertently burned up his tent while playing with MAPP gas, which fuels acetylene torches and is used in welding.

Monday evening, a newer resident of the camp allegedly cut up another person’s tent, according to some camp residents and activists who help at the site. She was then arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence and striking a parked vehicle. 

In addition, residents said the trash hadn’t been emptied for two weeks, the bathroom trailers were “filthy,” and the portable toilets were full.

Molly Adams/Lawrence Times Trash bins line the road near the city-run campsite in North Lawrence, April 10, 2023.

One resident said city staff provided cleaning supplies to clean the tent where Ashley Sawyer was found dead last month. The residents found biohazards in the tent. The resident said the city did not provide gloves or protective gear to clean the area.

Camp residents and Sawyer’s daughter gathered sentimental items weeks ago, yet the tent is still up. They plan to move the memorial soon.

Some residents are concerned about remaining biohazards inside and do not feel it is their responsibility to clean or dispose of the tent. They feel it is the city’s. 

“Ashley’s belongings have not been removed for a variety of reasons, but will be at the appropriate time,” McCabe said. 

Molly Adams/Lawrence Times A memorial pays tribute to Ashley Sawyer, who was found dead in her tent on March 21.

‘The city has blown it’

Adams, who helped manage the campsite from October through January, said city staff appear not to know what to do when it comes to conflict management. 

Jenn Adams

“What we’re finding, even from talking to staff, is a lot of this is misdirection because — or no direction, I should say — because they don’t have any guidance,” Adams said. “They don’t know what they’re supposed to be doing, basically just sitting in the trailer doing nothing. Getting food when somebody wants it. That’s about it.”

Adams wonders who will be interested in staying at the Pallet Shelter Village under the city’s management. The plans call for up to 75 cabin-style emergency shelters on the site of the former Veritas Christian School on North Michigan Street.

Adams said she does not intend to pursue the program, partly because the city has lost her trust. 

“I don’t know that anybody out here is gonna go into Pallet. I have not heard one person say, ‘I’m ready,’” Adams said. “… The city has blown it with them. There is no trust. There is no belief. The city has destroyed all of that.” 

As part of its contract with Pallet, the city will need to hire a third-party company to manage the village. The site is slated to open in mid-July, and staff members have not yet brought the Lawrence City Commission any contracts to consider for site management. 

City officials have said the North Lawrence camp will remain open at least until the Pallet Shelter Village opens. 

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Resources for survivors

If you have experienced sexual violence or trauma, please seek the help that’s right for you. There are many options available, and you don’t have to file a police report if you don’t want to.

Get 24/7 help in Lawrence: The Sexual Trauma & Abuse Care Center
  • Call 785-843-8985 to reach an advocate, 24/7. (Consider saving that number in your phone in case you or someone you know ever needs it.)
  • After an assault: What are my options? Check this page for detailed information about
    • talking to an advocate,
    • going to the hospital,
    • making a police report,
    • and/or talking to a counselor or therapist.
  • On campus? Check this page for specific resources for the University of Kansas, Haskell Indian Nations University, Baker University, Ottawa University and more.
Resources on KU’s campus:
  • Contact the CARE (Campus Assistance, Resource, and Education) Coordinator: Students can make an appointment by email,, or by calling 785-864-9255. It’s free, confidential and voluntary to talk with the CARE Coordinator. All genders welcome. Read more here.
  • Find more KU campus resources at this link. Specific information about sexual assault exams can be found here.
  • Direct message KU CARE Sisters on Instagram. You don’t need to be affiliated with Greek Life to reach out and/or receive assistance. (Note: CARE Sisters provide peer support and education, but this is not a 24/7 service like others listed here.)
Domestic violence situations: The Willow Domestic Violence Center
  • Reach the Willow for help 24/7 at 785-843-3333.
  • Find more resources on the Willow’s website at this link.
More resources
  • StrongHearts Native Helpline: Call 1-844-7NATIVE (762-8483) for 24/7 safe, confidential and anonymous domestic and sexual violence support for Native Americans and Alaska Natives that is culturally appropriate.
  • National hotline: Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), text “START” to 88788, and/or visit to chat and learn more, 24/7.

Chansi Long (she/her) reported for The Lawrence Times from July 2022 through August 2023. Read more of her work for the Times here.

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