City of Lawrence closes sanctioned camp; confusion ensues for some people staying nearby

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Post updated at 1:53 p.m. Tuesday, March 19:

The City of Lawrence has closed the sanctioned camp for people experiencing homelessness, but some people who have been staying in camps nearby are confused about where they can and cannot be until camping in the area is banned in a month. 

Workers “came in there like an army” and made quick work of eliminating the previously sanctioned portion of the campsite Monday morning, said Ted Boyle, president of the North Lawrence Improvement Association.

Many former residents of the area behind Johnny’s Tavern that the city dubbed “Camp New Beginnings” moved into the Village on North Michigan Street, a community of 50 cabin-like shelters. 

Signs posted at the campsite indicate that no camping will be allowed in the area effective April 15, per the city’s illegal camping ordinance. Residents who thought they had until then to move said they were surprised by a portion of the site getting bulldozed Monday morning.

Slide the control up and down to see the camp pictured Saturday morning and Monday evening, March 16 and 18, 2024. (Photos by August Rudisell)

People who have been staying in the areas surrounding the city-sanctioned camp expressed frustration Monday evening with a lack of communication about what the city expects them to do. Lawrence police officers were on the scene as some people moved belongings they said they were being forced to move. 

Residents said it was unclear where they are allowed to be and that they have not received any maps or other documentation from city officials outlining any changing boundaries or plans. 

Cori Wallace, a spokesperson for the city, said via email Tuesday that a map showing the central business district, where the city has been allowing camping, was shared with the folks who met with the homeless outreach team during a meeting on Thursday, March 14.

Some of the land in that area is public property owned by the City of Lawrence; other portions are private property owned by a handful of LLCs. But there are no physical boundaries on the ground to indicate where one part ends and another part begins. 

Molly Adams/Lawrence Times A sign warns people sleeping outside that no camping will be allowed in the area effective April 15, 2024.

City staff members will give the Lawrence City Commission an update on the situation Tuesday evening. (Read more about that at this link.)

The staff report in the meeting agenda says that remaining roughly 25 folks camping in that North Lawrence area would “be supported by City staff, advocates and service providers to access shelter by April 15.” 

Before June 2020, it was illegal for people to camp on any public right-of-way area. But amid the COVID-19 pandemic, city commissioners made efforts to decriminalize homelessness by adopting an exemption to the ordinance that prohibited nightly camping (Ord. 9754, Lawrence municipal code 14-417). The exemption made it legal for people to camp on city property zoned in the downtown commercial district (CD) — but only when shelters were at full capacity. 


“Following closure of the north Lawrence Central Business District camps, we will be able to work in other camps to connect people to shelter and wind down camping based on available sheltering capacity, focusing first on the larger more prominent campsites then moving to the dozens of smaller camps across the community,” according to the agenda item. “We will continue building capacity in sheltering, outreach and supportive services with the goal of connecting people in campsites to safe shelter and services that enable them to access housing.”

Starting Tuesday, April 16, camping will no longer be allowed on city-owned property in the North Lawrence area that is zoned as CD, according to the agenda item. 

August Rudisell/Lawrence Times Lawrence police were on the scene of the North Lawrence campsite Monday, March 18, 2024.

The Lawrence City Commission meeting is set to begin at 5 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St., with a 30-minute executive session (closed-door meeting) to discuss “privileged legal communications from the City’s attorneys regarding laws and policies and their application to City operations,” followed by the regular meeting.

Meetings are open to the public and livestreamed on the city’s YouTube channel, See the complete meeting agenda at this link

People may submit written public comment to commissioners until noon the day of the meeting by emailing People may also give public comment during meetings in person or via Zoom; register for Tuesday’s Zoom meeting at this link

Slide the control left and right to see the camp pictured Saturday morning and Monday evening, March 16 and 18, 2024. (Photos by August Rudisell)
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Molly Adams (she/her), photojournalist and news operations coordinator for The Lawrence Times, can be reached at molly (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Check out more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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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