Douglas County Commission approves strategic plan to end homelessness, discusses supportive housing

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Douglas County commissioners on Wednesday voted to approve the joint city-county strategic plan to end homelessness and heard an update on supportive housing plans and projects.

The strategic plan, “A Place for Everyone,” breaks the issues into five focus areas: Equity and Inclusion; Affordable Housing; Supportive Housing; Systems; and Emergency Shelter. Staff members first presented the draft plan to the county commission in March 2023. The commissions had a joint meeting in January to hear updates on the plan’s progress. 

The plan includes an estimate of about $267.77 million for the five-year plan — that breaks down into about $218.3 million for affordable housing; $28.4 million for supportive housing; $21 million for emergency shelter; $45,000 for equity and inclusion and $25,000 for systems. The county’s entire approved 2024 operating budget is $194.74 million, and the city’s total expenditures for 2024 are $472.33 million. 

Lawrence city commissioners approved the plan during their meeting Tuesday. Both commissions — and the city manager and county administrator — made clear that the approval does not obligate either government to spend the estimated cost to fully fund the plan. Both commissions will consider specific expenses as part of their annual budgeting processes. 

In a work session ahead of the commission’s regular meeting, Assistant County Administrator Jill Jolicoeur and others gave an update on supportive housing, which has been the county’s primary focus in the plan. 

By 2027, the county aims to increase the numbers of permanent supportive housing units dedicated to various groups of vulnerable people. In addition to the units that already exist, those goals include:
• 30 units for chronically homeless people;
• 2 units for chronically homeless families;
• 50 units for people ages 55-plus;
• 20 units for people involved in the criminal legal system;
• 10 units for “homeless, child-welfare involved families”; and
• 15 transitional housing units for people with substance use disorder and/or mental illness. 

Jolicoeur said she has a goal to have a five-year capital improvement plan completed by the end of this year. 

Commission Chair Karen Willey said she’s noticed that churches have been missing from this conversation.

“This is not all government; it is not all nonprofits. It’s not all on families who are bearing the burden for a lot of things that we don’t even see, that don’t even fall on our radar,” Willey said, “but there’s also a huge opportunity for churches to be stepping up in this space, and I would just call them out for that.”

Angie Bauer, housing care coordinator with Tenants to Homeowners, shared updates on projects the nonprofit land trust has in the works. TTH is partnering with Peaslee Tech, Limestone Community School and the KU School of Architecture on single-family affordable home projects. 

Students of KU’s Dirt Works Studio have nearly completed their next affordable home in collaboration with TTH, and an open house is set for noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, May 11 at 1040 Oregon St., Phoenix House. 

In addition, the Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority has 32 affordable units for people ages 55 and up in progress. Shannon Oury, executive director of LDCHA, said the organization expects those units to come online in mid-2025. 

County Administrator Sarah Plinsky said there’s not a single nursing home in Douglas County that takes Medicaid anymore. 

The county has a website where strategic plan progress will be monitored. That’s available at this link

In other business, commissioners approved a schematic design and scope of work for the Douglas County Judicial and Law Enforcement Center. Treanor Architects and J.E. Dunn Construction will move forward with the design development phase of the project. 

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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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