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Businesses look for answers, help as Lexington sees rise in homelessness for first time in years

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Posted at 8:14 PM, Sep 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-08 09:30:15-04

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — After years of decline, the number of homeless people in Lexington has increased and businesses are struggling with the proper way to respond.

Kathy Gibson, manager at Lincoln Terrace Apartments in Lexington, says a homeless encampment has popped up on their property that they can’t get rid of.

"Every time I call them [Lexington police] … You know what they say to me when they come out, ‘it's a civil matter,'" said Gibson. “So I say yeah, all right I call the constable. The constable will come out, but they have a fee.”

Council members Jennifer Reynolds and Hannah LeGris both represent parts of downtown. They told the new manager of the Office of Homeless Prevention and Intervention (OHPI), Jeff Herron, that they received numerous calls from constituents and business owners about issues downtown with potential people experiencing homelessness.

"My office has been honestly inundated with concerns about what could be homeless people or other people trespassing, destroying property, sleeping on their property…,” said Reynolds.

Herron addressed the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government to give an annual report on Tuesday.

The point-in-time count, conducted every January, is supposed to be an estimate of how many people experience homelessness on any given night.

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When the city created the Office of Homelessness Prevention and Intervention in 2014, the annual LexCount homeless population was 1,544 people living in emergency shelters, transitional housing and not sheltered.

Over the years, the office reported a 54% decrease, crediting the $37 million in funding they were able to leverage to change that. However, this year, the count revealed 715 people, up from 593 in 2021.

“Given everything that our community and the entire world has been through in the last couple of years, this is not entirely surprising,” said Herron. “It's actually, I think, a testament to the work of our partners that we did not see a greater increase in this number."

He told the council that the office has made progress on the five-year plan to end homelessness, which was created in 2021. However, lack of public education is one reason he says people don’t know what to do to help homeless people.

There are homeless and then there are people who they refer to as street-involved, who may be housed but still involved in street behavior.

Herron says they hope to use an expanded public education campaign to make more people aware of what role OHPI plays and who people should contact in various situations.

OHPI is not a direct provider of support services. For trespassing and property damage, Herron said people will need to call the police who can make arrests or issue citations.

For others who are loitering, Herron says people should contact OHPI, so that they can inform Lexington’s Street Outreach Team to instigate and properly address the issue. They also have a team, which looks at individual cases, that they can contact.

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“We have more work to do, but even in our last meeting, at least two or three out of the list that we are case-conferencing, we had established permanent housing solutions for,” said Herron.

In 2013, the Mayor’s Commission on Homelessness released the “Greater Good Report” which included 44 recommendations to address homelessness and led to the creation of OHPI. Herron told the council that 31 recommendations have been completed and closed, two were deferred, and 11 were completed and ongoing.

The “Five-Year Strategic Plan to Reduce and Effectively End Homelessness and Enhance Affordable Housing in Fayette County" was released in 2021 and included 55 recommendations. Some progress has been made, but Herron admitted there’s still a lot more to be done.

“Despite prevention being a part of this office’s title, we’ve had very little funding that has actually managed to help us to prevent homelessness,” said Herron.

Moving forward they plan to take a “housing first” model. They are currently under a second contract with Untold Content to help with the creation of a centralized public education campaign, developing a learning module to offer an on-boarding curriculum to case managers, and a public data dashboard.