Proposed Health Ordinance Asks Douglas County To Provide Hotel Rooms Or Other Offsite Quarantine Places For Homeless Shelters, Other People Living In Groups | News, Sports, Jobs

photo by: Mike Yoder

The Lawrence Community Shelter, 3655 E. 25th St., is pictured in this 2015 file photo.

Douglas County leaders will soon consider a health ordinance calling on the county to provide funds and resources to support off-site quarantine places for collective living spaces such as homeless shelters.

As part of its Wednesday meeting, the Douglas County Commission will consider a public health emergency order providing non-collective shelter options such as dormitories, hotels and motels to shelters and other such agencies in order to limit the spread of COVID-19.

In a note to the committee, the director of emergency management, Robert Bieniecki, says that in recent weeks, community agencies serving the homeless and precarious have had to provide temporary isolation housing to those who have tested positive for COVID-19. Bieniecki says social distancing measures at these agencies have significantly limited the ability to provide adequate spaces in these facilities that do not endanger staff, other clients and the community at large.

As Journal-World recently reported, executives at Lawrence Community Shelter earlier this year announced plans to increase the capacity of the main building in East Lawrence, but then changed those plans after an increase in prices. cases of COVID due to the more contagious Delta variant. Specifically, leaders said the shelter’s capacity will remain at 40 so the shelter has room to quarantine and isolate people exposed to the virus or tested positive.

The refuge has the capacity to serve 125 people most of the time and 140 people during the winter. It initially reduced its capacity to 65 people in August 2019 due to budget issues and changes to its staffing model following an external review commissioned by the city and county. Then it further reduced the number of people housed in its main building to a maximum of 40 amid the coronavirus pandemic. The shelter received federal coronavirus relief funding to help run a temporary hotel shelter program earlier in the pandemic, which allowed it to serve additional guests beyond those allowed at its facility, but this program ended on April 1.

Bieniecki says in the memo that, based on consultation with the housing and social services branch of the United Command – a group of health and government officials working to tackle the pandemic – and health councils County of Lawrence-Douglas, the most feasible solution for future isolation is to temporarily accommodate guests in hotel rooms for the designated period of time.

The proposed health ordinance states in part that Douglas County will support non-collective accommodation options for community members who are homeless, members of treatment programs or those who live, work or are exposed to places. gathering, as well as members of their household. This does not include those incarcerated in the Douglas County Jail.

County support would include funding to pay for space in college dorms and hotel and motel facilities. This would also include the management of shelters and support to non-clustered sites, including feeding, laundry and cleaning operations, as well as coordinating the larger system of quarantine and isolation procedures.

If the commission approves the proposed order, county spokesperson Karrey Britt said the Douglas County government would provide the financial and other support listed in the order using funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency ( FEMA) or the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) if possible. The ordinance would go into effect at 12:01 a.m. on September 9 and would remain in effect unless canceled or changed by the health worker or county commission.

The county committee will meet at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday at the County Courthouse, 1100 Massachusetts St. Residents can attend the meeting in person, virtually, or by phone, and more information on these options is available at

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