LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — With rising rent and limited affordable housing options, some people are finding themselves in unpredictable housing situations — including homelessness.
Providers and the Office of Homelessness Prevention and Intervention (OHPI) have been meeting to formulate an official winter weather plan to address vulnerable populations that could be at risk as temperatures drop.
Charlie Lanter, Commissioner of Housing Advocacy and Community Development, told council members they were ready and able to take care of the anticipated need.
Lanter says providers they're working with estimate there will be a need for about 50 additional emergency shelter beds based on the capacity they have.
OHPI plans to increase funding to street outreach for hotel vouchers and limited staffing. However, it will only be available when the weather hits below freezing, and an advisory is issued. In addition, only those unable to enter shelters or utilize other resources will be given a voucher.
However, faith leaders from the Catholic Action Center and the Ezekiel Foundations are not convinced, believing the numbers are greater than the data the city has.
“We're concerned that offering basically — not denigrating it — but a patchwork sheltering, with a limited number of hotel rooms will leave many without housing to suffer through the cold,” said Ginny Ramsey, director of the Catholic Action Center.
Faith leaders in Lexington asked the council members to help address the growing homeless population by supporting the creation of an Ezekiel Foundation-backed “Winter Emergency Opportunity Village." It would cost $775,000 to build the project, which would have the capacity to house 160 unsheltered people.
Why the disagreement on the numbers and what to do? Lanter says there's a difference in opinion on what homelessness is and who they're grouping into those boxes.
“You will often find, in the world of homelessness, the numbers — people don't agree on the numbers and a lot of that is based on how you define homeless. Is it someone who's in a camp, on a cot, on a sleeping bag, in the woods — is it someone who is just couch surfing at a friend's house?" said Lanter. "When you talk about winter weather emergency planning, the target population is the camp."
Lanter says one of their concerns is that people from outside of Fayette County could come to the proposed village and add to Fayette County’s homeless population once it closes. Lanter wants the city to focus on long-term housing solutions and preventing homelessness by offering assistance to keep them housed.
The groups say they will continue to work together to help those in need despite their differences in opinion.
Two transitional housing pilot projects operated through Community Action Council and Mountain Comprehensive Care started in July to serve up to 100 households combined.
Both were funded through the City’s federal American Rescue Plan allocation.
Community Action Council’s emergency hotel voucher program is no longer in existence. Hotel vouchers are offered on an emergency basis for those already enrolled in their programs.
They are advising anyone who cannot reach their Community Action representative to call 859-233-4600 and ask for the program director of the program they are enrolled in.