LAWRENCE — Flyers were posted in downtown Lawrence in April alleging the city issued a “lie-filled response” to concerns about moving a homeless camp.

The flyer said the city released the response – in which the city says it followed protocol regarding homeless camps – because of the “pressure they have been under to sweep homeless camps without notice. nor adequate compassion”. A photo of the flyer circulated the internet and advocacy groups took notice.

Flyers posted in downtown Lawrence in April accused the city of unethically cleaning up and moving a homeless camp. The city said it followed protocol when clearing and moving the camp. (@yeano/Instagram)

The issue highlighted a long-term homelessness problem in the city that has been exacerbated by the lingering economic effects of the pandemic, a lack of low-income housing and rising rents.

“Lawrence has a large homeless population, and historically for the size of the community,” said Mathew Faulk, director of housing at Bert Nash Medical Center in Lawrence.

While Wichita – Kansas’s largest city – has four times the population of Lawrence, the homeless population in Wichita was only one and a half times higher, according to the latest Lawrence’s point count in 2020 and 2020 Wichita Point Count.

Faulk said reduced shelter capacity due to COVID-19 has forced more people to live outdoors.

The flyer that circulated earlier this year accused the city of tearing down tents where campers kept food, water and survival tools.

“No attempt was made to store items,” the flyer said. “They were all destroyed.”

Mitch Young, Lawrence Park District Supervisor and member of Lawrence’s Housing Division, said the charges are not true. He said talks with the camp had started three weeks before it was to be moved and all items had been stockpiled.

The notice was posted three days before the camp was moved 50 yards across the street, according to the city. City policy requires storing items left at camp for 30 days.

Protecting people is a priority for the city. Jen Wolsey, Lawrence’s Homeless Programs Coordinator, said Lawrence and Douglas County, as government entities, invest a lot of money in different homeless programs and provide services to the homeless. -shelter.

According to the city, Lawrence’s 2022 budget was structured to fund “significant homelessness and housing initiatives.” In addition to a new division of housing initiatives, the city’s 2022 budget emphasizes three areas: homelessness assistance, emergency housing, and rapid rehousing.

The 2020 spot count reported 408 homeless people in Lawrence. Between 2018 and 2019, there was a 30% increase in homelessness in Lawrence, with 294 reported in 2018 and 396 in 2019.

According to the Kansas Housing Resources Corporation, vacancy rates in Douglas and Shawnee counties tend to be lower than other parts of the state. Compared to other areas of Kansas, Shawnee and Douglas counties have the newest housing stock and newest rental construction, especially in Douglas County. These factors have resulted in higher rental costs.

“We just don’t have affordable housing available at the level needed for everyone here,” Faulk said. “It’s a college town. There is a lot of demand to live here. Owners can pretty much charge whatever they want.

A tent and personal effects are seen on August 12, 2022 at Watson Park in Lawrence.  (Lily O'Shea Becker/Kansas Reflector)
A tent and personal effects are seen on August 12, 2022 at Watson Park in Lawrence. (Lily O’Shea Becker/Kansas Reflector)

City of Lawrence released housing affordability goals over a five-year period from 2019 to 2023. By 2023, it aims to reduce the rental gap for non-student renters who earn less than $25,000 per year, add 100 affordable housing units, increase the number of rental units that receive accessibility modifications each year, increase the number of housing assistance checks available annually and restore 70 units in poor condition annually.

“The picture I’m trying to paint is that there are a lot of factors that play into homelessness, not just in Lawrence, but as a country,” Faulk said. “They mostly revolve around housing and affordable housing stock and the availability of affordable housing. And then the second piece of that is support services and social service providers who can help provide the services that these households need to address their issues.

Faulk said Douglas County and Lawrence are working to end chronic homelessness and have joined the Built for zero national movement in April 2020. The federal government’s definition of chronic homelessness is a person with a disabling condition who has been homeless for one continuous year or more, or a person with a disabling condition who has experienced four episodes of homelessness in the past three years.

“The main goal we have set for ourselves with this initiative (Built for Zero) is to eliminate chronic homelessness,” Faulk said. “And by that, we mean there’s no one who has to be chronically homeless.”