Statement on the Recent Deaths of Individuals Experiencing Homelessness

Dear community members and supporters,

After a year of hard weeks, we thought we had seen everything. Then, last week, we endured an extended blackout at the shelter and loss of heat to our building, all during subzero outside temperatures. To make a difficult week much worse, we were saddened to learn of the deaths last week of three members of the homeless community in Lawrence. We cannot yet confirm the cause of death for all three; however, at least one of these individuals died due to exposure and hypothermia as temperatures plummeted.

As shelter providers, we know better than anyone the limits of what emergency shelter can do. We know that if we do not provide a pathway to stable housing for EVERY shelter bed, the population of chronically homeless people in our community will continue to grow and so will the number of people who die unhoused. That this week’s tragedy occurred at a time when our community is offering a historic number of emergency shelter beds at multiple locations reminds us that seasonal, temporary solutions are not enough. If it is more lethal than ever to be homeless, then it is more urgent than ever to provide access to permanent housing without barriers and without preconditions. We need local investment, both in funding and policymaking, in Housing First solutions to homelessness in our community.

To the families and communities and social workers who loved these individuals, we share in your loss and we mourn with you. We believe that each one of these lives mattered. The people we lost last week had a right to permanent, independent housing and all the dignity, protections, safety and health benefits that would have afforded them. We will continue to work to make that vision a reality for all of the people who walk through our doors.

Renee Kuhl
Executive Director
Lawrence Community Shelter

Thea Perry
President of the Board of Directors
Lawrence Community Shelter