Herald-Leader Editorial

Converting bankrupt lofts project for homeless center deserves serious consideration

City should take proposal seriously

July 31, 2013 

Homeless advocates want to turn the Lorillard Lofts into a center that provides services, health care and housing for the homeless. The shelter would be open 24 hours a day, and its location doesn't abut residential neighborhoods.

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It's time to take a deep breath, look beyond the price tag and think seriously about a proposal to convert an underused and financially troubled loft development into a place where Lexington's homeless can find shelter and services.

Linda Blackford reported in Sunday's Herald-Leader that a group of advocates for the homeless, led by Ginny Ramsey, director of the Catholic Action Center and the Community Inn, have developed early-stage plans to acquire the Lorillard Lofts property on Price Street, just west of Lexington Cemetery. Acquisition and rehab are put at about $6.5 million. The city has rebuffed, at least initially, a request to provide that money.

That's not surprising, and it's not necessarily a bad thing.

While this proposal aligns with the recommendations of a city task force on homelessness to provide "wrap-around" services when people are in danger of losing their homes to help them get back on their feet and avoid becoming homeless, it wasn't on the table when the city's budget for the coming year was hashed out in a lengthy public process. Additionally, it's impossible to know if this idea can work until the proposal is fleshed out, including recruiting the other agencies and services Ramsey envisions on site, and sorting out how operational expenses will be met in the future.

Here's some advice for each side at this early stage.

City officials must take this seriously. Ramsey and others have established credibilty through almost 15 years of service to this community's most marginalized populations. They know the challenge of finding locations to serve the homeless, who are often in or near downtown, that won't draw the ire of neighbors. The Lorillard Lofts, bordered by a cemetery, railroad tracks and Leestown Road, borders no neighborhoods but is close to the heart of the city.

For the advocates, assailing other projects the city is currently supporting — the boutique 21C hotel and the Rupp Arena project — as less worthy will not advance your cause, nor should it. Cities are complex, with hundreds, if not thousands, of plans and projects in the works at any given time. Many of them will serve specific groups, but the hope is that they will collectively support an economically vital, culturally diverse environment for all.

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