Numbers of people seeking shelter have ‘significantly increased’ amid Lawrence’s winter weather

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The numbers of people experiencing homelessness who are seeking indoor emergency shelter have “significantly increased” as dangerously cold temperatures and wind chills, coupled with heavy snow, have hit the Lawrence area over the past week. 

Lacee Roe, director of community engagement for the Lawrence Community Shelter, said via email Monday that LCS has had between 130 to 165 guests overnight, and overflow shelters have been needed. The shelter’s capacity is 140.

“Prior to this past week, we were seeing between 120-130 guests overnight. And prior to the start of winter, we had closer to 100 people staying here overnight,” she said. 

Lacee Roe

During the days, Roe said upwards of 100 to 110 guests have been staying at the shelter.

Previously, when temperatures were above 40°, guests had to exit the shelter at 7 a.m. unless they were in the housing program, had scheduled appointments with case managers or worked overnights so they could have a place to sleep during the day, she said. 

LCS has also sheltered between 10 and 15 pets each night over the past few days, Roe said. 

The city announced Thursday that it would open the Santa Fe Depot/Amtrak station at 413 E. Seventh St. in East Lawrence to provide emergency winter sheltering.

It is considered an overflow shelter, but people do not have to go to LCS first — they can just walk into the station. Up to 40 people at a time can stay at the Amtrak station each night.

Misty Bosch-Hastings, homeless programs coordinator for the City of Lawrence, said Monday afternoon that altogether, 32 people have stayed there since it opened. 

Misty Bosch-Hastings

There haven’t been any incidents at the depot that have required calling first responders, Bosch-Hastings said — “Actually, it’s been pretty nice.” 

Someone donated a TV and DVD player with a bunch of DVDs to the depot. 

“We’ve had some pretty content folks and it’s been cool to watch,” Bosch-Hastings said. 

First United Methodist Church, 946 Vermont St., on Friday night opened a volunteer-run emergency shelter as the primary overflow shelter when LCS hits capacity, taking referrals from LCS. It can serve up to 25 people, and Bosch-Hastings said it has been full every night since it opened. It’s expected to be open through Saturday night, Jan. 20, into Sunday morning. 

Bosch-Hastings said she wasn’t sure exactly how many more nights the train depot would be open, but it would be until the weather clears up. She said it looked like that could potentially be next Tuesday, “but who knows.” 

The National Weather Service in Topeka forecast as of Monday showed that dangerous wind chills will continue through Tuesday. Wednesday could hit 32°, but very cold temperatures are expected to return later this week, with an overnight low of -3° forecast for Friday night into Saturday.


Volunteers needed

LCS is asking people to sign up to volunteer via their website, “We could still use more help this week especially!” Roe said. 

View more information about volunteer opportunities at this link. People can also sign up for emails from LCS to get updates on how to help; visit this link to sign up.

Get warm

If you or someone you know needs help to find indoor shelter or get transportation, contact city staff members Misty Bosch-Hastings at 785-760-1481 or Cicely Thornton at 785-813-9483.

See the city’s new website,, for more information.

The city is seeking volunteers for four- and eight-hour shifts at the Amtrak station. Bosch-Hastings said volunteer recruitment had been going really well over the weekend. Weekday shifts are harder to fill because folks are working. The city also had some cancelations Monday, she said.

Find more information, view shifts or sign up at this link. As of Monday evening, signups were available for shifts through early Sunday, Jan. 21. 

Sign up to volunteer at First United Methodist Church at this link

Supplies needed

Many community members have been working individually and collectively to gather donations to help people experiencing homelessness, but more supplies are always needed. 

Roe provided this list of specific needs for LCS as of Monday: 

New, in-package underwear for adults (sizes M – 4X)
Winter/work boots in adult sizes, new or gently used (sizes 10-14)
Warm comfy clothes in plus sizes, new or gently used. Sweatpants or sweatshirts are commonly requested. (sizes 1X-4X)
Gloves, hothands and toe warmers. 

LCS accepts donations at the front door daily from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Just ring the bell to let staff know you’re there, Roe said. LCS also has an Amazon wishlist at this link.

“We are very grateful for the tremendous response we’ve seen from community members wanting to help during the winter storm!” Roe said. 

The Amtrak station needs throw blankets, yoga mats and pillows, Bosch-Hastings said. The depot is open 24/7 through the winter weather.

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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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