Herald-Leader Editorial

Don't rush to limit shelters; wait for homeless commission plan

October 4, 2012 

No one neighborhood should have to shoulder responsibility for Lexington's homeless population.

The responsibility is much broader than that, and lasting solutions will require broad community support.

Coming up with recommendations that can win that necessary support is one of the challenges facing a commission appointed by Mayor Jim Gray. A report from the commission is due in January.

Meanwhile, councilman Chris Ford is moving to make sure no more Lexington neighborhoods are surprised by the opening of a day shelter for the homeless in their midst.

The council is considering a new rule that would require day centers for adults to obtain approval from the Board of Adjustment even when zoning allows the facility.

This new requirement would ensure neighbors are notified, concerns are aired and costs and benefits are weighed. The rule would apply not just to homeless shelters but also to day care centers for the elderly or disabled.

The impetus for the proposal was the opening — with almost no notice — in December of the New Life Day Center at 224 North Martin Luther King Boulevard.

Although the council has scheduled Ford's proposal for a first reading, councilman Steve Kay, co-chair of the Homeless Commission, has said he will ask that the proposal be tabled until the commission finishes its work.

Kay says that at the moment he supports the proposal on its merits, but that he might learn something between now and January that would change his mind.

It makes sense to wait for the commission's recommendations before subjecting facilities for the homeless to more stringent zoning requirements.

At the same time, advocates for the homeless should be more sensitive to the concerns of people and neighborhoods impacted by their decisions, especially in places that are already struggling against a heavy load of social problems.

The homeless population is a surprising cross-section of Lexington — from children whose parents have lost their jobs and homes to addicts and the mentally ill who are wanted nowhere and have made the street their home.

We applaud the volunteers who staff New Life and the nearby Catholic Action Center for their service to the chronically homeless, a group that has few other options.

Ideally, the commission will come up with ideas for dealing with the root causes of homelessness, as well as sheltering those in need, while also protecting neighborhoods.

Admittedly it's a tall order and tough balancing act, but Gray and his commission should aim to make Lexington a model for serving all its citizens.

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