• Wed. Nov 30th, 2022

People living outside wary of Lawrence homeless camp

ByDebra J. Aguilar

Sep 5, 2022

LAWRENCE, Kan. – Anxiety runs through the site of the city’s proposed homeless camp in Lawrence. Neighbors share similar concerns a 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 driven to the area.

The city-owned spot is directly behind Johnny’s Tavern on North Second Street. The space occupies the grassy area between the restaurant parking lot and the royalty.

The North Lawrence Improvement Association criticized the plan for pushing homeless people out of downtown to the less affluent side of town. The group also shared concerns about more litter and a few more people in the area.

But while the city plans to support the camp with toilets and dumpsters to combat those fears, people already living in the camp say they don’t want change to happen either.

“They are characters. I mean, they’re very unique individuals,” said Jennifer Adams, whom everyone calls “Camp Mom.” “I have a food tent right there. It’s filled with food. There’s another tent over there that’s collapsed. It was the shower tent,”

“We try to keep everything under control,” Adams said. “You don’t just add more people. You add more characters. More flaws. Just more everything and everything collides,” Adams.

The proposal from the city advances this idea as a way to decriminalize homelessness. The plan would push people who currently live in areas where camping is illegal into camping.

But along the levy, recreational space users see the ups and downs of the plan.

“You’re creating an environment where it could be toxic if they’re not able to keep it clean on their own, especially next to the river,” Kathleen Powers said.

“I mean it’s supposed to be a natural sanctuary for wildlife and so on and people enjoy it. So you don’t want it tainted. But, of course, they need a place to go the same way,” Powers said.

The city plans to provide amenities including restrooms and dumpsters at the campground. But people already living on the site say support will come with rules.

“If the city does it and does it well, it could be good. But the stipulations and the rules and everything they want to impose on these people is half the reason a lot of them are here,” Adams said.

These proposed rules include a reservation system and check-ins with city staff. A man who asked not to be identified said the protocol would create a breakdown.

“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 hears this proposal in response to the reality that Lawrence does not have enough accommodation space for every person who lives outside. The city-run homeless camp is seen as a palliative consistent with recent Federal Court rulings on this issue.

The Lawrence City Commission will have that discussion Tuesday at its 5:45 p.m. meeting.