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Lenexa reaches agreement with church regarding homeless shelter; lawsuit dismissed

Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church
Posted at 4:29 PM, Dec 13, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-13 23:48:15-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Lenexa will allow a church that sued the city for the right to operate a temporary homeless shelter during the harsh winter months to proceed.

The city announced Friday that it has reached an agreement to allow Project 1020 to operate a shelter during the winter at the Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church, 9400 Pflumm Road, through April 1, 2022, or until the Lenexa City Council updates the City Code.

“The City of Lenexa wants to be part of a comprehensive solution to the homeless issue in Johnson County,” Lenexa City Manager Beccy Yocham said. “This agreement will enable the homeless population to be served temporarily while we work toward a comprehensive solution that serves the entire community.”

Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist sued Lenexa in U.S. District Court last month, alleging that the city had “imposed a substantial burden” of the church’s free exercise of religion.

Project 1020 is a nonprofit that provides temporary shelter for people experiencing homelessness.

During an initial hearing last week, U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Crabtree “encouraged the parties to work toward mutual solution,” the city said in a release.

Lenexa also said it has agreed to pay $15,000, which will “cover a small portion” of the church’s legal expenses.

Th lawsuit was dismissed with prejudice Friday after the parties reached the agreement.

"We are grateful to the Court for encouraging this settlement and look forward to partnering with the City of Lenexa to craft a mutually agreeable ordinance to address overnight homeless ministries in the future," Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist said in a statement from its attorneys.

Both sides met for an entire day Tuesday to avoid further litigation.

According to terms of the agreement, Project 1020 is permitted to begin operating the temporary shelter for up to 30 adults from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. each day through April 1, 2020.

Project 1020 will provide an on-site social worker and the church will have volunteers, who will be awake as the residents sleep, according to the terms of the agreement provided by Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist.

The church will be allowed to feed residents dinner and breakfast and will provide training to its volunteers for fire watch, health and safety.

If the Lenexa City Council hasn’t updated its zoning and regulations regarding homeless shelters by next winter, the agreement and its terms will remain in effect for the winter of 2020-21 as well.

“The City of Lenexa has always recognized the need for homeless services in Johnson County,” Yocham said. “We are also charged with a myriad of responsibilities to our entire community – one of which is the duty to ensure that appropriate land use and zoning decisions are made.”

Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist, which is located in a former elementary school, is located in an area designated by City Code as Single Family Residential.

Lenexa also promised to “begin an in-depth process to update City Code to more comprehensively address how homeless shelters are regulated throughout the community” with input from “residents and members of the faith community,” according to a statement.