As safe outdoor spaces soon open, Louisville homeless camps are being cleaned up

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Workers cleaned up homeless camps in downtown Louisville on Wednesday, with city officials and outreach workers providing resources to those in need during the opening date of a new “secure outdoor space” approaches.

But several people who were forced to move said the city’s plan to create a downtown sanctioned outdoor space did not appeal to them.

What they want is a safe and affordable apartment or house instead, a few residents told the Courier Journal.

The camps that were evacuated covered six to eight city blocks near Interstate 65 and were on Jackson, Jefferson, Preston, Main, Market, Hancock and Liberty streets between Brook and Floyd streets.

City officials previously said the camps were on the property of the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet. The city gave the required 21 days notice for the compensations in mid-September, saying the camps posed “significant public health and safety challenges.”

Outreach workers from The Healing Place, Seven Counties Services and local organizations helping the homeless made sure every resident on Wednesday morning was aware of the cleanup and housing options.

“Are you okay to go? A worker asked a woman, referring to a shelter.

A man named William said he had recently moved to Louisville from North Carolina and would give The Healing Place a try for housing assistance.

He said he preferred the accommodation to an outdoor space and had moved to Louisville just to make a fresh start.

In August, the city leaders announced plans to spend at least $ 3 million on new “safe outdoor space” at 212 E. College St., near downtown and I-65, which would provide services such as storage, food and showers to homeless people.

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The city said the new space could open as early as mid-November.

Several residents packing their belongings on Wednesday morning told the Courier Journal that they hoped to secure affordable housing instead of moving to a “safe outdoor location” or indoor shelter at the Wayside Christian Mission.

Mary Ann Bennett, 72, said she and a friend who cares for her are awaiting a response regarding an apartment request.

In the meantime, they would move from their place under the overpass on Jackson Street, just north of Jefferson Street, to the nearby Wayside shelter, Bennett said.

But Bennett said she didn’t like Wayside rules and preferred to stay outside while waiting and hoping for permanent housing.

“It’s kind of more free here,” Bennett said, expressing his gratitude for the outreach groups that show up to provide meals on weekends.

Mary Ann Bennett, 72, holds back tears as the Metro Sanitation Department cleans up a homeless camp on Jackson Street in Louisville.  October 6, 2021

She and her friend lived under the highway overpass in a makeshift location that included chairs and plenty of boxes for clothes and other personal effects, with four planks forming a square around them.

Two outreach workers who got to know Bennett stopped to hug him as the street slowly cleared.

Nearby, Michael Beam and his wife were also preparing to make the short trip to Wayside as they picked up goods.

Beam, 57, said they “had been signed up for housing,” but noted his wife was disabled and said it had been difficult to find an accessible apartment or house.

Beam said he lived in Bullitt and Spencer Counties before moving to Louisville to escape an abusive roommate and other negative influences.

He had been a mechanic and housed in stable housing until numerous heart attacks and colon cancer attacks made work and life much more difficult.

“We’ll get there,” Beam said. “I have angels watching over me.”

Louisville has cleared the same camps several times in recent years, with a large encampment under the Jackson and Jefferson Street overpass among the targets targeted in 2019. The city then suspended cleaning up camps amid the COVID-19 pandemic but has resumed the practice in recent months.

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Some defenders have expressed concerns about the plan to create a safe outdoor space, arguing that the federal bailout dollars the city is using to tackle homelessness could be better used instead to create more affordable housing units.

The new outdoor space could temporarily accommodate 40 to 50 people, city officials said in August.

Homeless advocates have also questioned whether a new safe outdoor space would cause Louisville to clean up more camps elsewhere and to commute between people who cannot find a place in the sanctioned area of ​​College Street.

“We created the problem of homelessness as a society by choosing to underfund affordable housing and the services people need,” said Catherine McGeeney, director of communications for the Coalition for the Homeless. “Moving people out of sight is not a solution to homelessness.”

Metro City Councilor Jecorey Arthur, 4th District, said “the only solution to homelessness is housing.”

“It’s first and foremost,” Arthur said. “In addition, a number of us on the board are part of a working group to decide what we should fund through the US bailout. I advocated that at least half … of those dollars be spent on building housing at the lowest median income level in the area. “

The Homeless Coalition counted 833 homeless families in a one-time count in January.

Building homes for them at current construction rates would cost $ 170 million, Arthur said.

“It does not include wrap-around services, nothing other than the simple construction of the housing,” Arthur said. “I’m advocating for this, making sure that the majority of the money is spent on affordable housing.”

Bailey Loosemore contributed reporting for this story.

Contact Billy Kobin at [email protected]