Lawrence City Commission approves contracts with Bert Nash, Mirror Inc. for homeless response team

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The Lawrence City Commission on a 3-1 vote Tuesday approved agreements that aim to boost outreach, case management and services for people living outside.

The agreements are with two providers as part of the city’s multidisciplinary homeless response team — $412,098 for Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center, and $37,500 for Mirror Inc. to add a substance use disorder outreach clinician.

Through the agreement, the city will focus on outreach and refer clients to Bert Nash. Bert Nash will shift focus to increase case management support for the homeless response team and add an outreach mental health professional, according to the meeting agenda item. The agreement also includes a “consumer flex fund.”

Misty Bosch-Hastings, director of the city’s homeless solutions division, told commissioners the city wants to build upon established partnerships with community organizations to address “the complex challenges faced by our unsheltered neighbors.”

“We anticipate regular updates from case managers on the progress of each referred individual, ensuring that our efforts remain aligned and responsive to their evolving needs,” she said. “Furthermore, we encourage open dialogue to explore how our team members can enhance and complement the work of Bert Nash case managers, maximizing supports for those experiencing homelessness.”

Also as part of the team:
a benefits specialist with the city will help eligible people seek Social Security benefits, Medicaid or Medicare;
a housing navigator with Lawrence Community Shelter will connect people with emergency shelter or housing options;
a substance use clinician will provide assessments for treatment and treatment options for people seeking recovery;
law enforcement personnel “will help ensure the safety and security of both team members and individuals experiencing homelessness,” Bosch-Hastings told the commission; and
an outreach specialist with the Lawrence Humane Society “will foster positive relationships between animals and humans while addressing our community needs related to animal welfare,” she said.

The roughly $450,000 for the two agreements will come from the city’s special alcohol tax fund. Kansas statute directs cities with a population of 6,000 or more to receive 70% of the collected taxes from alcohol sales and distribute part of that money to a special alcohol and drug programs fund. Commissioners last week approved an ordinance that dissolved the Special Alcohol Funding Advisory Board, which provided community oversight of how those funds were spent.

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Commissioner Amber Sellers asked for documentation of how Bert Nash has been spending flex funds that have been included in previous contracts.

Bosch-Hastings said most of those funds go toward sheltering families in hotels. Mathew Faulk, director of housing for Bert Nash, said the center has always provided the data the city asks for each year through the city’s standardized outside agency reporting process.

“If there’s additional data that needs to be reported in that, that’s something that maybe the administration needs to look at in respect to the reporting process,” Faulk said.

Regarding health care, Assistant City Manager Brandon McGuire said that a group of medical providers have been meeting regularly for the last year, but “we’re trying to build that part of the plane as we’re flying it as well.” Faulk said some local providers have been absorbing costs for people who don’t have insurance, though the county provides some funding to help with that.

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Commissioner Lisa Larsen said she appreciated the work of the team and the progress they’re making.

“We just need to make sure we are ensuring that we are getting what we’re paying for,” Larsen said.

Commissioners approved the agreement on a 3-1 vote; Sellers at first abstained, but under a new city ordinance, commissioners have a duty to vote. They must vote unless they have a conflict of interest “or other conflict that appears to make voting on an issue improper.” Sellers ultimately voted no because she had concerns about the reporting and execution of the scope, she said.

Commissioner Brad Finkeldei abstained and was not involved in the discussion because a close family member is a Bert Nash employee.

Another agreement, with the DARE (Drop-In And Rest) Center, will allow the center to significantly expand its open hours and take the lead in opioid harm reduction by providing Narcan and education. That agreement, which would be funded by the Lawrence Police Department’s opioid funds, will be on a future city commission agenda.

Douglas County commissioners in April approved paying Artists Helping the Homeless up to an additional $36,000 to add a 20-hour-per-week peer outreach worker who will work in camps and other areas where people experiencing homelessness live as part of the team.

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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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