Lawrence group home generates complaints from neighbors


A former day care at the corner of Mehaffey and East 47th in Lawrence is the site of a relatively new group home for boys who have been removed from their families by social services, and homeowners in the area are not happy about their new neighbors.

Some of those homeowners met April 23 with Desmond Mathews, the president and CEO of the facility’s parent company, Cornerstone Support Services, to air grievances and work toward solutions.

Some of the complaints were emotionally charged and included racial epithets.

The meeting was coordinated by Mathews and Lawrence Common Council Member Rick Wells (D-District 2), who represents that area and is himself one of the facility’s neighbors.

Most of the complaints from neighbors related to a single employee who they said drives too fast through the neighborhood, running stop signs and endangering children. There were some complaints about other staff members’ driving, as well, and concerns about behavior from some of the boys in the home.

One resident — who was trembling with emotion — told Mathews that she had approached the employee who she said drives too fast, asking him to slow down. She said he cursed at her repeatedly.

“I asked him, after he called me a white (expletive) four times, I asked him, I said, ‘How would you like it if I called you (n-word)?” she said.

Shortly after, the woman was interrupted by Common Council Member Carlos Jennings (D-District 4), who asked people in the room to bring the energy down and allow everyone to be heard. Jennings and Councilors Betty Robinson (D-at large) and Sherron Freeman (D-District 3) were present, along with Wells.

Mathews said that, without proof, he wasn’t going to discipline any staff member. However, after hearing complaints about speeding, he plans to install additional security cameras at the facility that will be aimed down the street, so he can monitor his staff’s driving. He also said he could have a driving monitor installed in the one employee’s personal vehicle, to ensure that employee abides by speed limits.

Mathews also cleared up some misconceptions about the facility, which residents had believed was for juvenile offenders. He said the original intent was to have a “locked” facility for children needing specialized services, but after hearing concerns from neighbors during a town hall meeting several years ago, he opted for an “unlocked” facility, that temporarily houses boys who have become wards of the state. He said the boys stay up to 20 days at the group home, but some stay only a few days.

In an earlier telephone interview, Mathews said he bought the building in 2019.

“The only reason I even chose that particular facility was because it was at the end of a dead-end street butted up next to an industrial plaza,” he said. “I’m like, ‘OK, this shouldn’t be much disruption to anyone’s peaceful life, because I observed the building for months — there’s semi-trucks going up and down there, there’s an oil distribution company that has oil tankers going up and down the street at all hours of the night.”

There were several pathways toward getting it zoned for use as a group home, he said, and he started with an option that included meetings with neighbors. That didn’t go well, he said, and when the issue came before the zoning board, neighbors spoke against it, and he was denied.

There were still options remaining, though, and Mathews used a different rule that allows a variance for buildings that have been vacant at least five years. He simply waited for that threshold to be reached, got his permit and opened it in fall 2023.

“Now we are open, we’re licensed, we’re certified and we’re doing good works,” Mathews told the group gathered for the April 23 meeting. “I think that’s what we’re losing sight of — we’re here for the children.”

Mathews said the facility is licensed by various state agencies, including the Department of Child Services, and must follow stringent regulations to maintain those licenses.

The April 23 meeting lasted a little more than an hour and ended with more positive energy than how it started. Besides Mathews, other administrators from the facility spoke, and the manager, Shaidra McGrew, gave her personal cell number to neighbors, so they could call her directly with concerns.

Mathews added that he was planning a neighborhood barbecue at the facility in May, stating that he would like to improve relations with nearby homeowners.

For more about Cornerstone Support Services, visit