Residents of North Lawrence campsite prepare to say goodbye

Share this post or save for later

People have had a lot to say about the camp in North Lawrence over the past couple of years. But those who live there are mourning as they pack up to leave the place where they’ve made their homes.

Jennifer Adams and her partner, Shane, have been staying on the land behind Johnny’s Tavern for more than three years now. They were there long before the City of Lawrence chose the land for a sanctioned campsite for people experiencing homelessness, which opened at the end of September 2022.

They’ve weathered a dozen or so Kansas seasons there now. Worse than the record-setting cold snaps and dangerous heat waves has been the wind, Adams says. It pulls the tarps off of tents, it crumbles canopies, it blows your possessions away and it sends trash flying everywhere, even when there are dumpsters available.

Lives have ended and begun there. Susan Ford, 53; Tony Cipollaro, 26; Ashley Sawyer, 36; and Crystal White, 51, all died on the swath of land between the Kansas River levee and the rest of North Lawrence.

It’s also where Adams helped deliver her granddaughter a couple of years ago, and where Adams’ dog, Babygirl, birthed a litter of eight puppies. (She has since been fixed.)

For a long time, Adams says, she and the small community who lived there with them were able to police the area themselves. She and Shane both say they only had to call police one time — and an ambulance once, when Adams’ granddaughter arrived.

Then the city-sanctioned camp opened. It was intended to be a stopgap measure to consolidate campsites as the city worked to increase emergency shelter and affordable housing options in town. And things got chaotic for a while.

“I told ’em putting all these people — I mean, there’s a reason why people live in different neighborhoods or different parts of town, because they don’t get along with different types of people,” Adams says. “And then they go and stick 80 tents up, and there’s one or two people in each — I mean, that was a lot to put in one small area.”

The city closed its sanctioned camp last month. Now it is requiring the folks who lived on other parts of that land to leave, too. Adams, Shane and numerous other residents have been staying on the other side of Maple Street, but they can no longer be there.

Residents said they were told as long as they were actively packing to leave, they would be given the day Monday to move out. (A notice left at the camp last week said all items remaining on the property after 2 p.m. Monday would be discarded.)

Some Lawrence Times photos never made it to publication in the past. We’re sharing them now as this campsite is coming to an end.

Boom, another longtime resident of the North Lawrence camp, says he knew the four people who died there as well.

“All of ’em I knew, and all of ’em were family to everybody else. And when one hurts, everybody hurts,” he says.

People are homeless for their own reasons, he says; some need help, and others just need someone to listen.


He says he hopes the city’s strategic plan to reach functional zero homelessness will work, but “for some reason, there’s always going to be one person outdoors, homeless — for some reason, they’re stuck, and they cannot do nothin’ about their situation.”

“Soul searching has to be done from people who have great success, well-known worldly, to those who have a lot of failure and well-known nowhere,” he says. “Soul searching needs to be done.”

Boom says he’s planning to move to a different camp in town.

Adams and Shane were working to relocate to a quiet new camp location over the weekend and on Monday. But they’re ready to find a home for themselves, cat Cheech, dogs Thaddeus and Babygirl, and their now-grown puppies, Karma, and Delilah, of whom they have partial custody. (Delilah spends part of her time with another camp resident.)

Shane says five people who have lived at the camp are now indoors. It’s a small number, but he sees it as victory. Those people did it themselves, he says, but with coaching from Adams and himself.

They’ve done their best to support people and help them find whatever they needed, he says, even when that meant filling up propane cans in the middle of the night in subzero temperatures.

“I can’t be out here no more; I don’t want to be out here no more,” Shane says. “We can do what we need to do fight this fight for these people inside. We’ve got to think about ourselves and our animals now.

“This poor woman is working herself to death,” he says of Adams, known as the camp mom. “I don’t think that she knows any different.”

Shane says people don’t realize why they’re out there because they don’t ask — they make assumptions.

Living outside is “hard — it’s really hard,” and it’s depressing, he says.

“I guarantee you 85% of the people in this city would not make it a night in a tent, let alone a week,” he says. “You know, they say there’s no camping — I’m not camping. I’m surviving. I’m living.”


Adams was tearful as she and advocates worked to pack up her belongings in preparation for the move.

Her tent is elaborate and carpeted, and she says people tell her it feels like a house. “Just because it’s not a house doesn’t mean I can’t have a home,” she says.

Residents are still confused about why the city is starting with the North Lawrence camp when it’s technically the only place where camping is legal if no shelter options are available. The city started in that district because it had relationships with the people living there, according to a news release Friday.

“We finally started having a community here and trying to come together to support each other and it destroyed it,” she says. “People are just spread to the wind … And it hurts. I took care of these people a year and a half.”

The numbers of people have now dwindled, down to about 10 people still living there Monday. Babygirl has gotten bored, Adams says. She used to go around to every single tent to check on people each day — “go in and get lovin’ and food.”

Adams says she wants the community to know that “There’s good and there’s bad in everybody, in every class of people. The only difference between us is we’re on display.”

They don’t have walls to hide their messes, she says.

“We’re good people. Granted, there’s bad ones too, but some of us deserve a chance — from the landlords, from the people.”

If our local journalism matters to you, please help us keep doing this work.
Don’t miss a beat … Click here to sign up for our email newsletters

Click here to learn more about our newsletters first

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.

Latest Lawrence news:


Previous Article

Obituary: Eleanor Curtis

Next Article

KHP ordered to pay plaintiffs $2.3 million for unconstitutional ‘Kansas two-step’ traffic policy