Lawrence, Douglas County leaders pledge to reach functional zero homelessness, boost health care workforce

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Justice Matters’ 2023 Action Assembly began with a choir singing lyrics expressing hope for change, a fitting prelude to the goals and commitments for Lawrence and Douglas County the group outlined Sunday. 

Hundreds of Justice Matters members were joined by city and county commission members in discussing three major priorities: restorative justice in schools, elder care and ending homelessness.

“Today we have witnessed a historic moment for our community. Today, people of faith and people of goodwill from different races, different backgrounds, different socioeconomic classes and different religious denominations have come together to do justice,” said Kay Scarbrough, senior pastor at First United Methodist Church.

Chloe Anderson/Lawrence Times Kay Scarbrough

Justice Matters is a nonprofit organization featuring a coalition of 16 faith-based groups and “neighborhood networks” of individuals who don’t attend one of the religious congregations but are committed to the work.

The goal of the meeting, according to Deacon Godsey of Vintage Church, was for the community members in attendance to show the public officials present their support for specific ideals and policies. Throughout the ceremony, attendees showed their support by raising peace signs, clapping and standing up to show support.

Chloe Anderson/Lawrence Times Deacon Godsey

“Whether it’s folks like me who come from a Christian tradition and are seeking to follow the example of Jesus, or those who come from a Jewish tradition who are seeking to live out the very best of the Torah, or those from the Muslim tradition who are seeking to emulate the very best of the Quran, or those who are living by the teachings of Buddha, or those who are philosophical humanists who simply want the best for all of humanity,” Godsey said.

“Whatever our background, whatever your background is today, we can all agree that seeking justice is a necessity,” he continued.

And Kevin Coronado, pastor of the new Revive Church in Lawrence, announced that his congregation will be joining Justice Matters, then led an opening prayer.

The assembly included multiple prayers and religious songs, but it also featured members of the non-religious network. 

Chloe Anderson/Lawrence Times Kevin Coronado

​​Reaching functional zero homelessness 

Before three local officials pledged to continue efforts to end homelessness in Douglas County by 2028, Kristen and John Spencer shared the story of Tony Cipollaro, who died of a suspected overdose on Dec. 30 at the North Lawrence camp for people experiencing homelessness.

“Tony should be alive today; he would be alive today if we had the right systems in place,” John Spencer said. “We don’t want to see another family go through this … let’s end homelessness before it claims another life.”

Chloe Anderson/Lawrence Times Steve Ozark, John Spencer and Kristen Spencer

Justice Matters members also outlined goals and expressed support for local leaders aiming to reach functional zero homelessness by 2028

“Our county can become a beacon of truth to demonstrate that homelessness can be ended,” said Steve Ozark of Trinity Lutheran Church. 

Justice Matters expressed their strong support for the Built for Zero initiative, which attempts to create housing that instills functional zero homelessness. The group outlined three fundamental tenets to the program: the implementation of a real-time, by-name list of everyone experiencing homelessness; a one-stop shop where representatives from all service providers are present to receive people holistically, compassionately, and with dignity and respect; and the creation of sustainable and affordable housing.

“Our team knows that Lawrence could end chronic homelessness within five years,” Ozark said. “But our collective work right now as a community has never been more vital to make that happen.”

Justice Matters also pushed for leaders to take advantage of a three-year contract with Julia Orlando, an expert in affordable housing creation. 

“We ultimately will honor Tony’s memory today by changing the system and by stopping other needless suffering and death in a crisis of homelessness in our community. And you are not passive audience members in this; each of you has shown up to participate in direct action because we want to end chronic homelessness,” Ozark said to cheers and support from the crowd. 

Chloe Anderson/Lawrence Times

Douglas County Commissioner Shannon Reid, Lawrence Mayor Lisa Larsen and fellow City Commissioner Brad Finkeldei all pledged to work to reach this goal of functional zero homelessness by 2028 and were met by a standing ovation from the crowd.

Justice Matters thanked the city leaders for taking public ownership of housing and homelessness and beginning plans to work towards the group’s goals. Ozark said that 2028 is not aspirational — it’s a deadline.

Larsen told the attendees that in order to reach these goals, the commission would need continued support from the community.

She said community members needed to continue voicing their support at city and county commission meetings and continue to be supportive during particularly difficult — and costly — parts of the plan to reach zero homelessness. 

“I want to hear from you that you’re committed to that, to a five-year full plan,” Larsen said. “And you’ll be there for us every year.”


Reid also gave a short address to the crowd, asking them a question of her own.

“Will you individually and collectively recommit today to the daily culture change and the sort of individual community care work that is necessary for our truly transformative aspirations to become the attainable reality that we create?” she asked. “Will you do that, alongside us as systems work?”

Both comments were met with cheering and support from the audience.

Restorative practice in schools

Members of Justice Matters repeatedly raised peace signs to support continued efforts for restorative practices in public schools. 

Caitlin Sand, a Lawrence High School senior, has been on the steering committee for restorative practices in schools since 2021.

Chloe Anderson/Lawrence Times Caitlin Sand

Sand spoke about the reasons for supporting restorative justice in schools, including lowering suspensions and easing the school to prison pipeline.

“Restorative practices is a proven framework that schools across the country are using to improve classroom culture and reduce overall suspensions,” Sand said.

Raejaan Spicer, a member of the Ninth Street Missionary Baptist Church, described an example of restorative practices used with her son at Woodlawn Elementary.  

Chloe Anderson/Lawrence Times Raejaan Spicer

“The restorative practice was a tool to create a safe space to express how they felt and move forward,” Spicer said. “This is the kind of experience I want for my and others’ children.”

Justice Matters outlined multiple goals for the Lawrence school board, although Carole Cadue-Blackwood, the school board member scheduled to attend, was not present for the meeting.

They pushed for staff to be trained in restorative practices, outlining a goal of six to 10 staff members in each school to have received adequate training. Currently, all staff members receive tier-one restorative practice training, but Justice Matters members pushed for more to receive tier-two and tier-three training.  

In January, Cynthia Johnson, the district’s director of inclusion, engagement and belonging, worked with Justice Matters by reaching out to the district’s organization for training in restorative practices to move training earlier, from the spring to the fall. 

Justice Matters asked the school board to commit to that schedule change moving forward. 

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Elder care

A continuing emphasis on elder care was prioritized by Justice Matters after it was added to the list of the group’s top priorities last year.

Margie Dyck, of First Presbyterian Church, spoke to attendees about this priority, outlining a critical shortage in trained assistants for elder care.

Chloe Anderson/Lawrence Times Margie Dyck

She said that the waitlist at one home care facility had grown from 45 to 65 in the last year, and that 22% of Douglas County residents are older than 65. She was met with support when she said that the county is in critical need of more workers for elder care, primarily certified nursing assistants.

“Our grandparents, parents and you deserve more than that,” she said. “We deserve dignity, respect and care.”

The primary goal outlined by Justice Matters was to initiate a collaboration between a local workforce development board and Dwyer Workforce Development to address the shortage of staff to care for seniors and aging people in our community. 


Dwyer Workforce Development is a nonprofit health care workforce development initiative that aims to address the critical shortage of health care workers while enhancing the lives of seniors. The program started in Baltimore, where it saw 250 people graduate as certified nurses aides, and has since expanded to Florida and Texas.

Cassandra Lately, from Ninth Street Missionary Baptist Church, received her CNA in 2019 and started working in health care the next year. She argued that more people were needed to do this work, especially in long-term positions.

Chloe Anderson/Lawrence Times Cassandra Lately

“I knew I was only one person, but I wanted to be one more person helping because I care about this work,” Lately said. 

The Kansas Department of Labor’s 2022 Occupational Outlook Report said that there is a need for 28,000 nursing assistants, 18,000 registered nurses and 6,000 home health aides by 2026. 

“This is a long-standing systemic problem that requires an innovative solution,” Dyck said.

Douglas County Commissioner Patrick Kelly pledged to bring together these organizations to discuss the implementation of the Dwyer Workforce Development program in Douglas County.

“I look forward to the conversation,” Kelly said. “… We’re excited to continue to learn and figure out how we can work for health care workers.”

Chloe Anderson/Lawrence Times Patrick Kelly

Jail alternatives

Joanna Harader, pastor at Peace Mennonite Church, and Kirsten Kuhn, a neighborhood network member, also gave an update on Justice Matters’ Jail Alternatives Committee. 

Kuhn said Justice Matters had nothing new to ask elected officials aside from continued support. She praised that they had made good progress since the inception of Justice Matters.

In 2020, a campaign led by Justice Matters helped to stop a $30 million jail expansion. 

“We are in the good position we are in because we said ‘no’ to jail expansion,” Harader said. “Now we are in a position to say ‘yes’ to reforms, and to more justice in our community.”

Chloe Anderson/Lawrence Times Kirsten Kuhn and Joanna Harader

Kuhn and Harader said that the primary goal for the committee was to monitor the implementation of recommendations from a Vera Institute of Justice study with the goals of reducing the incarcerated population in Douglas County.

The study found that almost one out of every three Black men ages 25-54 living in Douglas County were booked into the jail between 2017 and 2021. Among Douglas County residents in the same age group, 11.4% of Black women, about one in six Latino men (16.2%), and 7.9% of Native American women were booked into the jail during that time frame. (Read more about that at this link.)

Kuhn said that Justice Matters had conversations with Douglas County Sheriff Jay Armbrister about a discussed jail renovation that concerned the organization. But they were assuaged by the fact that the renovation would only update the facility and not expand capacity. Kuhn said the renovation was not planned to happen anytime soon. 

“We hope it will become clear to everybody in the next few years that we do not need to be investing more resources in the carceral system within Douglas County,” Kuhn said.

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Cuyler Dunn (he/him), a contributor to The Lawrence Times, is a student at the University of Kansas School of Journalism. He is a graduate of Lawrence High School where he was the editor-in-chief of the school’s newspaper, The Budget, and was named the 2022 Kansas High School Journalist of the Year. Read more of his work for the Times here.

Chloe Anderson (she/her) contributed to The Lawrence Times from August 2022 through May 2023. She is also published in Climbing magazine, Kansas Reflector and Sharp End Publishing. As a recent graduate of the University of Kansas, Chloe plans to continue her career in photography, rock climbing and writing somewhere out West.

You can view her portfolio, articles and commissioned work here. Check out more of her work for the Times here.

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