City to clear North Lawrence campsite Monday

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Camping will no longer be allowed in the North Lawrence area behind Johnny’s Tavern effective Monday. Advocates dispute the city’s account that most former residents have “exited street homelessness.”

About a year and a half after the City of Lawrence opened the sanctioned campsite in North Lawrence, the area will be the first camp the city fully clears.

Under current city ordinance, camping is only allowed in certain areas — city-owned land zoned as downtown commercial district, or CD — and only when there is no overnight shelter option available to them. Camping in parks or in the public right-of-way is not allowed.

Why the city has started with the North Lawrence area that is zoned so people can camp there when no shelter options are available — rather than with camps at parks and other locations around town — has been a confusing point for some people experiencing homelessness and advocates.

The city started in that CD district because it had relationships with the people living there, according to a news release Friday. The site will be cleared at 2 p.m. Monday, April 15, according to a notice posted at the camp Friday afternoon.

Maureen Brady, a spokesperson for the city, did not provide a timeline for when the city will begin to clear other camps.

Misty Bosch-Hastings, director of the city’s homeless solutions division, has told the Lawrence City Commission that staff members are working to gain people’s trust at campsites all over town, and staff will work to get people moved into shelter gradually.

Brady said via email Friday that “We have developed a model for closing campsites using best practices and person-centered case management, accounting for the unique needs of each person we are assisting.”

Brady said there were 65 people in the North Lawrence camps when the city started preparing to close the camp. About 55 of those people have “exited street homelessness,” and the city is now finalizing next steps into shelter for about 10 more people, Brady said. “This positive outcome is due to our model for closing camps, the additional shelter units developed over the past year, and the services to support sheltering at scale,” she said.

Advocates who have been helping people move from the North Lawrence site, however, dispute those numbers.

With the assistance of people who were out at the levee Friday evening, advocates who are at camps on a daily or near-daily basis compiled a list of the names of everyone they could recall who has lived at the North Lawrence river levee and where those people have gone or are going.

Of 74 living people, 32 — about 43% — have moved to other camps or plan to move to another camp over the weekend. Seventeen people, another 23%, have moved or plan to move into the Village, also known as the Pallet shelter village, which is home to 50 small cabin-style shelters in a fenced area on North Michigan Street.

Another nine had no plan as of Friday evening; seven were either housed or living with family; a handful more were in jail, staying at the Lawrence Community Shelter or renting a room; and those who made the list were unsure where a few others had gone.


Brady said the city’s model has worked for about 85% of people who were staying at the North Lawrence camp, and “We hope to report back soon that it worked for 100% of the campers in the district with no trespass required.” However, if anyone remains camping in the North Lawrence commercial district after their camps have been closed, they will be trespassed, according to the city’s news release.

The city notice posted at the North Lawrence campsite Friday afternoon stated that all items remaining on the property would be discarded after 2 p.m. Monday. The city will remove electricity, water, Wi-Fi and other resources from the North Lawrence site on Tuesday, April 16, according to the city’s news release.

Brady said there are about 40 people staying at the Village right now, “with some moving out soon because they have already secured housing vouchers, and housing. Some of those empty units will be filled by Monday with eligible individuals who are leaving the CD district camps.”

Advocates could not verify that total because the Village does not allow visitors.

Asked to clarify whether the city has plans to start moving people out of other specific camps and on what sort of timeline — days, weeks, or months from now — Brady said the information she’d already provided plus the city’s news release was all the city had to share Friday.

Brady said that “Over the past year we worked with our partners to address the deficit of emergency sheltering units and services and we now have capacity to shelter up to 175 individuals. More emergency shelter is needed, including for families with children.”

Advocates have long said that for some folks living outside, having to part with their pets is enough to prevent them from pursuing shelter at the Pallet village or at the Lawrence Community Shelter. LCS has changed its policies to now allow pets, but only one pet per person.

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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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