LAWRENCE, Kan. — Anxiety runs through the site of the proposed city-run homeless camp in Lawrence. Neighbors share similar concerns one day before the presentation to make it official.
According to the plan, the site would be temporary. But in the short-term dozens of people could be shepherded to the area.
The spot—which is owned by the city—is directly behind Johnny’s Tavern on North Second Street. The space occupies the grassy area between the restaurant’s parking lot and the levy.
The North Lawrence Improvement Association has criticized the plan for pushing homeless people out of the city-core and into the less wealthy side of town. The group also shared concerns about more trash and just more people being in the area.
But while the city is planning to support the camp with restrooms and dumpsters to combat those fears – the people already living at the camp say they don’t want the change to happen either.
“They’re characters. I mean, they’re very unique individuals,” Jennifer Adams, who everyone calls “Camp Mom”, said. “I have a food tent right there. It’s packed full of food. There’s another tent back there that’s collapsed. That was the shower tent,”
“We try to keep everything under control,” Adams said. “You’re not just adding more people. You’re adding more characters. More flaws. Just more everything and it all clashes,” Adams.
The proposal coming from the city is moving on this idea as a way to decriminalize homelessness. The plan would push people to the campsite who currently live in areas where camping is illegal.
But along the levy, recreational users of the space see the ups and downs of the plan.
“You’re setting up an environment where it could potentially be toxic if they’re not capable of keeping it clean for themselves, especially adjacent to the river,” Kathleen Powers said.
“I mean this is supposed to be a natural sanctuary for wildlife and whatnot and people to enjoy that. So, you don’t want it tainted. But, of course, they need somewhere to go in the same token,” Powers said.
The city plans to provide amenities, including restrooms and dumpsters at the campsite. But people already living at the site say the support will come with rules.
“If the city does it and does it right, it could be good. But the stipulations and the rules and everything they’re wanting to put on these people, that’s half the reason that a lot of them are out here,” Adams said.
Those proposed rules include a reservations system and check-ins with city staff. One man who asked not to be identified said that the protocol will create a break-down.
“People here—from what I’ve heard—want to leave. They don’t want to be here, but they also feel like they can’t because they’re being threatened with citations,” he said.
The city is hearing this proposal in response to the reality that Lawrence does not have enough shelter space for each person who lives outside. The city-run homeless camp is considered a stopgap that is in-line with recent federal court decisions on this issue.
The Lawrence City Commission will have this discussion Tuesday at their 5:45 p.m. meeting.