Homeless spend another winter fending off freezing temperatures

4 May

After a historically cold winter, Lexington’s homeless population searches for more permanent solutions to getting off the streets, and the Urban County government has struggled to find answers, leaving the homeless to rely on the good deeds of others to find shelter and escape the cold.

Susan Delph, who is 56 and currently homeless, petitioned the Council on Thursday, Feb. 12, to move forward on a plan that would build tiny houses or pods for Lexington’s homeless to move into.

The tiny houses, she said, would be a better alternative to the more conventional Tenant Services that gives needy individuals three months rent to get off the streets.

“Tenet services are not working out for us, as you know,” Delph said. “They give us three months rent but where are we going to go when that money runs out after three months? Back on the street. This is our only choice right now.”

Delph stated that most of the homeless in her community have bad credit and are in severe debt making it almost impossible for them to bounce back after they are off the streets through Tenant Services.

The better answer, in Delph’s opinion, is to build a community of tiny houses where homeless individuals would live and pay for utilities.

Delph and her homeless community have discussed plans for teaching individuals with disabilities who can’t work how to knit, weave, and sew so they can make money selling crafts. They also want to start a homeless newspaper and a coffee shop that would use its tips to help those struggling with rent.

The plans are coming slow for Delph and the other homeless members, however. Delph states that she has been to the Office of Homeless Prevention four times but has yet to hear a response.

The Office of Homeless Prevention was created in 2013 by Mayor Jim Gray to deal with Lexington’s estimated 1,500 homeless people. Gray’s goal is to end homelessness in Lexington in the next ten years.

In a WKYT piece, Herald-Leader reporter Beth Musgrave – who spent a month investigating Lexington’s homeless dilemma – said that the reason a city like Louisville has roughly the same homeless population but almost double the total population is that “they have focused resources on developing permanent housing.”

Musgrave points out that this sounds costly, but it actually saves the city money by removing the homeless from the revolving door of emergency room visits and jail stays.

Musgrave’s claim jibes with the success Utah has attained in reducing its homeless population by 78 percent over eight years, using a strategy called Housing First. Rather than getting people “housing ready” by putting them through drug treatment or into shelters, Utah simply gave them houses and a social worker to help them along – so far, it has proved to be cheaper and more effective than the alternative.

In December, the Urban County Council approved a contract that would start Lexington’s own Housing First program. Initially, it will put 20 homeless people in houses over the next three years with a case worker. The University of Kentucky will study the program and decide if it is effective.

The pace of the implementation is worrying to Delph, however, especially after witnessing the recent winter storm that rumbled through Lexington.

“We need to get these people back to where they need to be,” Delph said.

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