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Letter to the Times: A call for Lawrencians to come together to help our unsheltered neighbors during deadly weather

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Note: The Lawrence Times runs opinion columns and letters to the Times written by community members with varying perspectives on local issues. These pieces do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Times staff.

Would you like to send a letter to the Times? Great! Here’s how to do it.

Hi,

This is Jenn Wolsey. I am known by several different titles: “Purple-haired advocate”, “prior City of Lawrence homeless programs coordinator”, “radical”, and “irate employee”. I am sure there are more! I have learned to accept them all with grace (the good and the bad). 

I have been pretty absent lately, just watching from the background and only popping up here and there. I have been watching, though, and continue to hold hope for better solutions to address the homeless epidemic in Lawrence and across the nation to come forth. I also continue to hope the last death of an unhoused person on the streets of Lawrence will actually be the last. Hope is the only thing that keeps me in this work. 

This letter, though, is not intended to be about me or my City of Lawrence experience. This letter is intended as a plea to all Lawrencians … to all of you!

Starting this Friday, Lawrence and the surrounding areas are set to have some horrible winter weather — weather that has the potential to take lives.

No matter your opinion or stance on homelessness, I know without a doubt that the Lawrence community cares about keeping their neighbors alive. So please, let’s leave our debating about homelessness and how to best solve it for another warmer day. Instead, for today and the next week, I invite everyone to think about what they can do to help preserve life and support a warm place for everyone to go, to get out of this killer weather. 

I will never be a person who believes it is OK to take a person’s autonomy from them. In many situations, when a person has very little, their choice is what they depend on.

I am, though, a person who has experienced being outside in deathly cold weather, checking on unhoused folks and pleading with them to go to shelter. I am a proponent of emergency shelter and I am also a strong advocate around providing more than one option when it comes to shelter. My experience is that when there are choices and the weather gets below zero, even the most resistant people will go inside. 

This weekend, we will see temps below zero and therefore, Lawrence needs shelter choices that have availability and accessibility for all the unhoused in the area. 

Lawrence Community Shelter, the City of Lawrence and the DARE Center have committed to opening up spaces for folks to come in from the weather to stay. We are also hearing that some churches are talking about opening up spaces as well. 

The Jax Project and their numerous volunteers have committed to going out to encampments to continue checking on people and urging them to shelter. We are even talking to business leaders in town to see what they can do. This is a collaborative community effort to keep people alive. Again, even with all these different ideas around solutions, we are setting that to the side for now and coming together because we agree that we all want people to live. 

This is a community effort and will take a community to pull off. We need all Lawrencians to come together as a community. Please, each of you, ask yourself if you have the following you could donate to assist in supplying for emergency sheltering setup:

Medium size new or gently used/clean blankets (comforters larger than twin size are great, but hard to wash, carry and store)
New or gently used/clean yoga mats
Single-serving snacks

Just think, if every household in Lawrence can donate one medium size gently used or new blanket, we would have enough blankets for every unhoused person to have a way to gain at least some warmth, whether they go to shelter or choose to stay outside. Warmth in this weather means life! How can you provide warmth? 

As a whole, the homelessness epidemic is a complex issue, and honestly, I do not think that I will see the end to homelessness in my lifetime. I am, though, grateful for the work being done in Lawrence by all the different groups. I don’t agree with it all, but I can give credit that at least something is being done! This issue is not going away anytime soon, and at least Lawrence is not closing their eyes and trying to ignore it or make it some other community’s issue to address. For this, I thank all of you! 

Let’s make our goal to all show up because we are Lawrence Strong! Also, please share this need with your friends, neighbors, and on your socials. Use these hashtags: #Lawrencestrong #Givewarmth #Sheltersaveslives #Keeppeoplealive

Donations can be dropped off at Lawrence Community Shelter, DARE, or you can reach out to Jax Project on Facebook. All donations will be shared with LCS, DARE, other overflow shelters opening up this weekend, and Jax Project. This request is primarily for the above items listed but if a monetary gift is what you would like to provide, please reach out to one of the below listed organizations to donate. Also, I have listed LCS’s Amazon wishlist.

• Lawrence Community Shelter
3655 E. 25th St., Lawrence, KS 66046
785-832-8864
Amazon wishlist Website

• DARE (Drop-in And Rest) Center
944 Kentucky St., Lawrence, KS 66044
785-856-0698
Website

• The Jax Project
Facebook page
Trina: 480-828-6260
tlomissions@gmail.com

• Lawrence Mutual Aid Network
Facebook page

Much appreciation, friends,

— Jenn Wolsey (the purple-haired advocate)

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Letter to the Times: A call for Lawrencians to come together to help our unsheltered neighbors during deadly weather

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”No matter your opinion or stance on homelessness, I know without a doubt that the Lawrence community cares about keeping their neighbors alive,” Jenn Wolsey writes in this letter to the Times.

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