National homeless advocate praises Lexington for new hire, affordable housing funding

bmusgrave@herald-leader.comApril 17, 2014 

A national advocate for the homeless praised city leaders for hiring a director to coordinate homeless services and for setting aside money to address affordable housing.

Michael Stoops, director of community organizing for the National Coalition for the Homeless, has spent the past several days in Lexington working with homeless and housing advocates and attending various meetings.

Stoops has been a homeless advocate for four decades and is familiar with homeless initiatives across the country. The National Coalition for the Homeless is a national nonprofit based in Washington D.C.

"I think a city like Lexington can end homelessness," Stoops said Thursday at a brief news conference. "But it's not going to happen overnight. It takes everybody working together — the private sector and the public sector."

The Urban County Government has traditionally given money to its emergency homeless shelters — the Salvation Army for women and the Hope Center for men. That's rare, he said.

Many local governments give more money to animal shelters than to emergency shelters for the homeless, Stoops said.

The Urban County Council also recently set aside $3.5 million for homeless and affordable housing initiatives. It recently announced that it had hired a homeless coordinator. A plan to address affordable housing will be released in coming months.

But the Urban County Council has yet to pass a dedicated funding stream for affordable housing. That's key, Stoops said, because homelessness and housing are connected.

"You can't afford housing if you are working a full-time job at minimum wage," Stoops said. If Lexington can't develop cheaper housing, it will have more homeless people, he said.

Still, Lexington is better positioned than many cities to develop models that will make the city more livable for everyone, Stoops said.

"There is no one city that is a model," Stoops said. But there are cities that have had some successes. For example, Denver took over a former military base and turned it into housing for its chronically homeless population. Salt Lake City and Phoenix have targeted homeless military veterans and have been very successful.

Improving Lexington's homeless services and making more housing units affordable to minimum wage workers is not going to attract more homeless people, he said.

"People are not traveling across the country to be homeless in Lexington," Stoops said.

Beth Musgrave: (859)231-3205 Twitter:@HLCityhall

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