Discussions begin on how to serve the growing homeless population

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) – As the leaves change color and the air becomes cooler, those providing services to homeless people are trying to prepare for a harsh winter.

“It’s never been seen like this. The numbers, the needs, the elderly and disabled. That’s the most heartbreaking part of what’s going on in Lexington right now,” said Ginny Ramsey, co-founder and director of the Catholic Action Center.

The Catholic Action Center emergency shelter, which has 102 beds, says it is already at capacity.

“At this point, there are a lot of people that we give tents and blankets to,” Ramsey says.

With temperatures expected to drop over the weekend, Ramsey worries whether the city’s current bed capacity will be able to meet the growing needs.

Since summer turned into fall, the Catholic Action Center’s call volume has increased by 50%.

“There are so many reasons for the increase that have to do, of course, with COVID, but also rising rents and lack of affordable housing, that we don’t point the finger at. Everyone is working, but the problem is, it’s immediate,” Ramsey said.

Lexington Community Paramedic Team firefighter Lt. Ken Howell says they are also thinking about the growing number of people living on the streets.

“Checking to see if we have enough blankets available, heat packs, those little hand warmers,” Howell said.

The team of firefighters, social workers and a police detective conduct house calls throughout the city.

The people they serve may have needs that go beyond a typical 911 call and those who often request emergency services, including those experiencing homelessness.

“Being part of this team, I can spend time understanding – okay, what’s going on with you? How can I help? What do you need, what resources can I make it easier for you,” Howell said.

The team says that of its top twenty 911 users (people who call 911 or have 911 called on their behalf), fifteen are homeless people. Together they have accounted for 350 appeals so far in 2022.

With more people living on the streets or involved in the streets in 2022, according to the latest homeless count, Howell says they are working with city partners to find housing solutions.

Howell says that, for the most part, the team was able to work with the Office of Homelessness Prevention and Response’s street team to help most people find temporary and sometimes permanent housing.

“It’s tough. We’ve definitely encountered some obstacles, but it’s just about exploring other options and other resources that we have in the community,” Howell said.

Social service directors like Ramsey tell LEX 18 they fear what is to come. Indeed, many of the programs created during the pandemic and funded with federal funds have ended or are coming to an end.

The Hope Center says it currently has no plans to open its winter warming shelter this year. However, they say there are plenty of open beds in their emergency shelter. On an average night, development manager Katie Vogel says 160 out of 260 are used.

The city says there are alternatives and increased capacity. They expect to be able to share more information next week.

An Ezekiel Foundation plan to increase shelter capacity is expected to be presented to the urban Lexington Fayette County government by faith leaders on Tuesday.

They want the city to allocate $775,000 to build a temporary housing project called “Winter Emergency Opportunity Village”, which would have the capacity to house 160 people.

“What we are saying now as a group of agencies, faith communities and citizens – we need our government to make sure these people are taken care of this winter,” Ramsey said.