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The Lenexa city council Tuesday voted 7-1 to allow Project 1020, Johnson County’s only homeless shelter for single adults, to continue operating out of the Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church.
The special permit for the operation was set to expire Wednesday, but with the coronavirus shutting down other options for homeless people, the council voted to extend the permit.
Operations are now extended through the duration of the stay-at-home order for Johnson County, which is currently set to end April 24.
Under the extended agreement, Project 1020 is operating 24 hours a day, instead of its usual hours of 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.
“This is truly a humanitarian crisis for this most vulnerable portion of our population,” wrote church president Gail Robertson, in a March 27 letter to Mayor Mike Boehm. “By granting our request you would also be allowing these individuals to adhere to the same shelter-in-place order that everyone who has a home is adhering to.”
Councilmembers raise concerns for public safety, COVID-19 exposure
Councilmember Bill Nicks cast the dissenting vote, saying that he believes the intent of the original agreement has already been met.
The agreement was met with some hesitation, as councilmembers cited concerns with public safety and risk of COVID-19 exposure for volunteers and those staying at the shelter.
But most of them stated they believe it is the right thing to do.
“Considering that this really is a crisis situation that gets us through the stay-at-home order, and because the governor has included shelters as an essential business, I think that the agreement… makes a lot of sense and would do the most good, and would allow us also to deal with the situation as it is for right now, but then also to get us back on track for the process that we had moving forward before the pandemic,” said Councilmember Julie Sayers.
After discussing in executive session, the city council conducted a public video conference via Zoom, during which councilmembers shared concerns with Dale Trott, a liaison for both the church and Project 1020.
City leaders were concerned with the increase in police response in and around the Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church and Old Town.
They hope guests stay confined to the shelter area as much as possible, to quell public safety concerns and reduce COVID-19 risks to themselves and the surrounding community.
“I do want some assurances from you and the church that you’re speaking on behalf of that if you ‘lose control’ and I’ll air-quote that once again, of the situation from a volunteer perspective or supervision perspective, you will take initiative to shut yourselves down rather than putting your guests, your volunteers and our neighbors in further harm’s way,” Boehm added. “And I know that’s a big challenge, but I think that’s very important.”
The church has asked Project 1020 to maintain adequate volunteer support.
While guests are not “incarcerated,” shelter volunteers encourage them to stay put unless they must leave for a medical need or a job.
Jim Schmidt, one of the organizers of Project 1020, said he was “impressed” with the city council’s majority approval, considering city leaders in Olathe had denied the homeless shelter’s request to operate there.
“There’s a lot of people that don’t have a plan for this group of people, and for them to step up kind of improv and vote the way that they did says something about their hearts,” Schmidt said. “It’s a good deal.”
With the extension and 24-hour operations, Project 1020 is in need of additional meals and supplies, including:
- Cleaning supplies
- Paper towels
- Toilet paper
- Disinfectant spray
- Hand sanitizer