Ginny Ramsey: City must fund HOPE Center shelter to aid our homeless

March 26, 2014 

People waited in line to enter the Hope Center for the night.

As Mayor Jim Gray reflected in his March 18 press release about the Affordable Housing Trust Fund/Office of Homeless Prevention funding, "a society is best measured by how it treats the defenseless and vulnerable ... we know in our city there are too many who can't find safe, affordable housing and too many who are homeless."

It is time to remind city officials as they prepare a budget for our community, that the HOPE Center on Loudon Avenue is "home" for many of our most vulnerable citizens and that the funding for the center and the Salvation Army are both critical for our citizens who are experiencing homelessness.

In the Social Services Partner Agency review committee, the Salvation Army shelter was recommended for 95 percent funding for the 2015 budget, while the HOPE Center proposal was rejected for funding. Last year, the opposite was true.

These recommendations are coming from a process that the committee was asked to enact by the council in order to be sure all organizations would be on a fair playing field. It is understandable how a committee of officials and citizens can take a formula and come to the conclusion to fund those with the highest scores.

The problem occurs when the basic needs of our citizens are not given top priority. Housing our homeless is a priority for a community that cares about the safety and health of all citizens.

We at the Catholic Action Center and the Community Inn do not ask for partner funding. Our purpose is to be a community-funded ministry that fills in the gap of government-funded organizations, so it would seem that who receives the funding does not affect us.

However, we cannot fill in the gap if our city-funded organizations are denied. None of us can do this alone; there are almost 1,600 homeless men, women and children in Lexington.

We see the suffering of homelessness each and every day and know that if the shelters at the HOPE Center or Salvation Army were to close, the suffering on our streets would be unbearable.

After the experience of the past winter, we all know Lexington is a caring community. Our fire and police departments, the sheriff's office, service providers and hundreds of volunteers from the community collected and distributed over 12,000 blankets and 3,500 coats in an emergency response to the polar vortex.

The Community Action Council opened an emergency shelter to help with the overflow of the Salvation Army, HOPE Center, Community Inn and Catholic Action Center to be sure that our homeless citizens were safe during harsh weather.

The HOPE Center along with the Street Voice Council and Catholic Action Center sent groups out into frigid nights to find those camping outside and bring them to shelter. Our police and sheriff were checking for the "invisible" homeless who would have died in the cold if they were not sheltered.

The response was a testament to the compassion of our community. The collaborative efforts were laudable and all in our community can be proud to be a city that passed the test of true compassion in adverse conditions.

So, now we must remember those cold nights and the community response. Now we must ask our city officials to put our "treasure where our heart is" in caring for the vulnerable homeless.

We all expect the mayor and council to find additional funding for the HOPE Center shelter, as was done last year for the Salvation Army shelter. Now is the time to remind our city officials of the importance of that action.

Ginny Ramsey of Lexington is director of the Catholic Action Center and the Community Inn.

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