Lawrence Community Shelter demographic reports on guests show racial disparities

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People of color are overrepresented among guests at the Lawrence Community Shelter compared to the population of Douglas County, according to reports from the director. 

James Chiselom, the executive director of the shelter who’s been on the job about a month and a half now, presented to the LCS board of directors the first of demographic reports that he anticipates providing monthly going forward. 

Chiselom had two reports from the month of January: one on 221 “night-by-night” guests, or those who stayed at least one night at the shelter; and a more detailed report on demographic data on 45 people who had participated in a 90-day program with LCS.

Among the 221 guests who stayed at least one night at the Lawrence Community Shelter in January, 120, or 54.3%, identified as white; 39, or 17.65%, identified as Black, African or African American; 20, or 9%, identified as multiracial; and 13, or 5.9%, identified as American Indian, Alaska Native or Indigenous, according to the report. 

These numbers are quite different from Douglas County’s population as a whole, which includes 83.1% white people, 4.8% Black people, 4.5% people of two or more races, and 2.7% American Indian and Alaska Native people, according to the 2020 Census

The percentage of guests at the shelter who are Black is about 3.7 times the percentage of Black people in Douglas County’s population.

Among participants in the 90-day program, 55.6% identified as white; 22.22% identified as Black, African or African American; and 8.9% identified as multiracial or as American Indian, Alaska Native or Indigenous, according to the second report. 

Demographics data shows the racial and ethnic breakdown of guests involved in a 90-day program at the Lawrence Community Shelter during January 2024.

The purpose of Thursday’s meeting was not to discuss the data in depth, or to consider causes or solutions for the disparities, but they served to start that conversation. The reports were just one part of an agenda that also included a financial audit, accounting report and more.

A gender demographic report showed that 148 guests, or 67%, identified as men; 62, or 28%, identified as women; and 8 identified as transgender, nonbinary, questioning or other or multiple gender identities. 

Some board members expressed concern about why more women aren’t seeking shelter at LCS. Misty Bosch-Hastings, director of the city’s homeless solutions division, said women surveyed cited concerns about safety and a lack of women-only emergency shelter beds.

The largest age group of guests — 69, or 31.2% — were between the ages of 35 and 44; 56 guests, or 25.3%, were between ages 25 and 34; and 40 guests, or 18.1%, were in the range of 45 to 54 years old. 

Ten of the night-by-night guests said that they were veterans, according to the report. 

The more detailed report on the guests who participated in the 90-day program also included data on disabilities.

It showed that 73% of those guests reported that they are disabled. Of the 45 guests, 44% said they had a physical disability; 20% said they had a developmental disability; 24% said they had a chronic health condition; 48.9% said they had a mental health disorder; about 13% said they had alcohol or substance use disorder; and 2.22% said they had HIV or AIDS, according to the report. 

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Chiselom also updated the board on some policy and procedure changes he’s implementing. 

He said anyone who is exited from the shelter for drinking or using drugs has been required to go to Heartland RADAC to get a drug or alcohol assessment, and to comply with recommendations of the assessment. 

He said it didn’t sit well with a lot of people in the beginning, but he thinks people are doing the assessments and coming back to the shelter. 

“We’re not just throwing them away by saying, ‘You did that; you can’t come back.’ We’re saying you can come back, but you need to address this situation,” Chiselom said.

He said people eventually understand that if they have limited options for their living situation and they would jeopardize staying at the shelter to use drugs or drink, that means there might be a problem. 

He said the shelter is allowing people in if they’re under the influence but not allowing anyone to use drugs or drink while they’re there. Staff members are working on learning deescalation techniques, he said. 

In addition, Chiselom said the shelter will soon start identifying guests who will move in to the Pallet village, the village of 50 cabin-like structures on North Michigan Street. He has been interviewing people for the job of village manager this week, he said.

The shelter board meets on the fourth Thursdays of the month. Find more information via the shelter’s website, lawrenceshelter.org/our-board.

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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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