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 are working together to maintain 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 to 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.
Justice Matters got a commitment in May 2021 from our Mayor and County Commission Chair to end chronic homelessness using the Built for Zero model. That same month, the City and County adopted a joint resolution to become a Built for Zero community and began convening regular planning meetings.
- At our Action Assembly in May 2022, Justice Matters brought together over 400 people at the Douglas County Fairgrounds to call for our city & county leaders to continue to prioritize this issue. At this meeting, County Commission Chair Shannon Reid committed to making sure that the information from a KU research center's Homelessness Needs Assessment is used to inform a comprehensive plan to end chronic homelessness in our community.
- The city, county, Justice Matters, and other key stakeholders are holding regular meetings to coordinate and prepare the plan. If you want to take part in Ending Homelessness in our community, please email [email protected]
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