In the fall of 2020, Justice Matters became increasingly concerned about the number of people who would spend the winter months without shelter. After some digging, the homelessness committee learned that there would be around 130 people in Lawrence spending the winter unsheltered. In response, the committee pushed the city to fund a hotel shelter to keep these folks safe from the cold and COVID. The number of people who received services at this shelter was staggering. From December 23rd when it opened to March 5th when it closed, over 300 unique individuals had received services. This shelter saved lives, but it is not a long-term solution. This year, Justice Matters wants to end chronic homelessness in Lawrence for good. Here’s how we’ll do it:
- We’re advocating for a program called Built-For-Zero to be implemented by all service providers across Douglas County. This program has brought the number of people experiencing homelessness to “functional zero” in 17 cities across the United States. The concept of functional zero is explained here.
- All service providers will work together to create a “by-name list” with information from each person experiencing homelessness. This list is updated as new people enter the system.
- Each person has unique needs that contribute to their homeless situation- they might need treatment for mental illnesses, or medical care, or addiction treatment- just to name a few. All of the service providers work together to find each person the best services based upon their unique needs. This is called case conferencing.
- With all providers working together using this method, homelessness becomes rare overall and brief when it occurs. Bergen County, NJ, with a population of 932,000 people, ended veteran and chronic homelessness within a year of joining Built for Zero. Learn more about Built for Zero here.
- Like many programs that get the the root of the problem, Built for Zero saves money in the long run, but does have an increase in costs up front. However, Lawrence-Douglas County has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take advantage of millions of dollars of federal COVID-19 relief funds allocated for affordable housing & homelessness. We just have to get all key players together to form a proposal on how we'll use them.
- At our Action Assembly in May 2021, Justice Matters brought together over 600 people (safely distanced in their vehicles) at the Douglas County Fairgrounds to call for our city & county leaders to commit to using Built for Zero to end homelessness in Lawrence. At this meeting, Mayor Brad Finkleldei and County Commission Chair Shannon Portillo both committed to ending chronic homelessness by January of 2023, using the Built for Zero Program. The city, county & key stakeholders hold regular meetings to coordinate a prepare a proposal.
- Ready to take action on ending homelessness? Come to the Action Assembly on April 28th at 6:30pm at the Douglas County Fairgrounds! We have the opportunity to end the crisis of chronic homelessness in our community, rather than continually managing it. It's going to take all of us speaking out together to get there.
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