NewsLocal News


City of Lawrence closes sanctioned camp, plans to provide alternative shelter for unhoused population

Camping throughout downtown Lawrence will not be allowed after April 15
Central Business District
Posted at 4:09 PM, Mar 19, 2024

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The City of Lawrence officially closed its sanctioned camp situated alongside the Kansas River in North Lawrence on Monday, according to Director of Communications Cori Wallace.

As the city has expanded its shelters and services to its unhoused population over the last couple of years, an exemption to a city ordinance made in 2020 allowing camping on city-owned land will come to an end on April 15.

While most of Lawrence's unhoused population that once resided in what was dubbed "Camp New Beginnings" has already relocated to other areas, there were still some utilizing the sanctioned camp located behind Johnny's Tavern when city officials showed up on Friday, March 15, to notify them of the closure.

"What we said was, Camp New Beginnings will close for good by 1 p.m. on Monday," Wallace said. "And there was literally a letter that was posted in the environment, along with a number of members of our Homeless Outreach Team, including our director of homeless solutions, who went and sat and had dinner with those guests and walked them through what was going to happen over the next, you know, 30 days in the Central Business District, but over the next 72 hours in Camp New Beginnings."

As of 2023, there were 351 unhoused individuals in Lawrence, which was a 51% increase from 2022, according to the city.

Because homelessness in Lawrence was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, an exemption to an ordinance was made in 2020 to allow camping in the Central Business District — located throughout downtown and up into the riverside of North Lawrence — to partially decriminalize homelessness to compensate for the limited space in shelters across the city. Those efforts also led to the establishment of Camp New Beginnings.

"Camping throughout the (Central Business District), unsanctioned or sanctioned, is not going to be allowed effective April 15," Wallace said. "The rationale for that is, previously we were able to justify camping in the Central Business District, largely due to the fact that we didn't have opportunities for those folks who needed shelter, to go to (Lawrence Community Shelter) or go to The Village, and now that we've expanded sheltering options in the city of Lawrence, and expanded kind of our case management approach with our partners, we no longer need to allow camping in the Central Business District."

Wallace said the city began notifying residents of Camp New Beginnings weeks ago that the camp would be closing, and informed them of alternative shelter options including the Lawrence Community Shelter (LCS), located on the southeastern outskirts of Lawrence adjacent to the Douglas County Jail, and The Village, a plot of land on North Michigan Street equipped with 50 temperature-controlled cabins.

"Those camp residents knew that they needed to identify alternatives for shelter," Wallace said. "Most of them are great candidates for The Village, which is our palette-shelter village community, and so, were invited to move there. If they were not the right candidate, or did not want to live in The Village, they have the opportunity to move to Lawrence Community Shelter where they've expanded services."

The Lawrence Community Shelter and The Village offer three meals a day and supportive services among other amenities. Both have worked to expand their services over the last couple years in an effort to meet the increasing demand in Lawrence.

RELATED | Construction completed for The Village, temporary housing for homeless people in Lawrence

Although, not all of Lawrence's unhoused population lived within Camp New Beginnings or city-run shelters; many live adjacent to what was Camp New Beginnings in unsanctioned camps. Wallace said the city has worked with those individuals to notify them of the changes. The city's goal is to get all of those experiencing homelessness off the streets and into shelters.

Most of Lawrence's unhoused population, more than 250 people, are on a by-names list with the city. The list ensures service providers know each unhoused person by name, by face, and know "hopefully, a part of their story," Wallace said.

"Those people have been connected with case managers, they've been connected by our Homeless Outreach Team," Wallace said. "And they are aware that we are attempting to move as many folks as we can into safer shelter. So regardless of if you were a resident of Camp New Beginnings or not, you have heard from our community, you've heard from a homeless outreach team member, and you have the option, potentially, to move to The Village, it's not just going to be guests of Camp New Beginnings that have access to The Village or LCS."

Work to relocate guests of Camp New Beginnings and other unsanctioned camps is ongoing.

On Monday, March 18, both the Parks and Recreation Department and Municipal Services and Operations Department went to Camp New Beginnings and cleared the land, preparing to return it to its original use, according to Wallace. Lawrence's Parks and Recreation Department oversees the property.

While portable toilets and other amenities — such as food services and device charging — have been removed from the former site of Camp New Beginnings, the city will continue to provide access to electricity, water, a portable restroom and Wi-Fi to those experiencing homelessness until April 16, according to Wallace.

"So hopefully, we'll begin to create an environment where people feel like, you know what, sleeping on the streets in Lawrence, Douglas County is not something that I have to do. I don't have to do that. I'm, you know, I'm worth more and I can access more services," Wallace said.