LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — As the leaves change color and the air gets crisper, those who provide services for people experiencing homelessness are trying to prepare for a severe winter.
“We have never seen it like this. The numbers, the need, the elderly and disabled. That’s the most heartbreaking part of what’s happening right now in Lexington,” said Ginny Ramsey, Co-Founder and Director of the Catholic Action Center.
The Catholic Action Center’s emergency shelter, which holds 102 beds says they are already at capacity.
“At this point, there are many people we are giving tents and blankets to,” says Ramsey.
As temperatures are expected to drop into the weekend, Ramsey worries about whether the current bed capacity in the city will be able to meet the growing need.
Since summer turned to fall, Catholic Action Center’s call volume has risen by 50 percent.
"There are so many reasons for the increase that have to do with, of course COVID, but also the rising rents and the lack of affordable housing, which we're not pointing fingers. Everyone is working, but the problem is, this is immediate,” said Ramsey.
Lt. Ken Howell, firefighter with Lexington’s Community Paramedicine Team, says they are also thinking about the growing number of people living on the streets.
“Checking to see if we have enough blankets available, heating packs, those little hand warmers,” said Howell.
The team of firefighters, social workers, and a police detective makes house calls to people across the city.
The people they serve may have needs that go beyond a typical 911 call and those who request emergency services often, including people experiencing homelessness.
“Being a part of this team, I can actually spend the time to figure out — okay, what's what's going on with you? How can I help? What do you need, what resources can I facilitate for you,” said Howell.
The team says of their top twenty 911 utilizers (people who call 911 or get 911 called on their behalf), fifteen are people who are unhoused. Combined they’ve accounted for 350 calls so far in 2022.
With more people living on the streets or street-involved in 2022, according to the latest homeless count, Howell says they’re working with city partners to come up with housing solutions.
Howell says, for the most part, the team has been able to work with the Office of Homelessness Prevention and Interventions street outreach team to help most people find temporary and sometimes permanent housing.
"It is tough. We have run into some obstacles, no doubt, but it's just exploring other options and other resources that we have in the community,” said Howell.
Social services directors like Ramsey tell LEX 18 that they fear what is to come. This is because many of the programs created during the pandemic and funded by federal dollars are over or coming to an end.
The Hope Center says that at this time they do not have plans to have their winter warming shelter open this year. However, they say there are plenty of open beds at their emergency shelter. On an average night, Development Director Katie Vogel says 160 of 260 are used.
The city says there are alternatives and increased shelter capacity. They expect to be able to share more information next week.
A plan by the Ezekiel Foundation to increase shelter capacity is expected to be introduced to the Lexington Fayette Urban County Government by faith leaders on Tuesday.
They want the city to allocate $775,000 to build a temporary housing project called the “Winter Emergency Opportunity Village,” which would have the capacity to house 160 people.
"What we're saying now as a group of agencies, faith communities, and citizens — we need our government to be sure these folks are cared for this winter,” said Ramsey.