When Ginny Ramsey first opened the Catholic Action Center in 2000 to provide meals, she thought Lexington’s homeless needed more services.
She was wrong.
“They needed a place to belong,” Ramsey said Wednesday. “They needed hospitality. They needed people to love them.”
They now have that place.
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Wednesday was the official grand opening and ribbon-cutting for the new Catholic Action Center on Industry Road. The former city-owned building now houses all Catholic Action Center’s operations — a day shelter for the homeless, a night shelter and other services —under one roof.
“This is not just a place to keep people off the streets,” Ramsey said. “It’s a place to welcome folks.”
That means the more than 100 people — men and women — who sleep there every night no longer have to leave in the mornings and return every night.
Catholic Action Center moved into the Industry Road location three weeks ago. It has a full kitchen for meals that will eventually be used for a training program for people who want to enter the food service industry, Ramsey said. It has a separate room for people who are ill, meeting space for AA and other groups to meet and a full patio with tables and chairs.
The Community Inn, the group’s former night shelter on Winchester Road, was cramped. People slept on mattresses on the floor. Thanks to donations, the new shelter has Tempur-Pedic mattresses and bed frames. Area businesses have donated every thing from signs to tables and chairs. Girl Scouts painted murals in the patio. An Eagle Scout built wood flower boxes.
Mayor Jim Gray, who attended Wednesday’s grand opening, praised the Catholic Action Center as a community-driven effort sustained by private donations. It receives no city money.
One-size-fits-all programs do not always work, Gray said. “The Catholic Action Center serves people that other programs don’t.”
During Wednesday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony, Ramsey announced the center will be named for its chaplain Laura Babbage, who has long championed the center and was Wednesday’s master of ceremonies.
It’s taken five years and a federal fair housing investigation for Catholic Action Center to find a permanent home.
The disagreement between the Catholic Action Center and the city began when the city revoked Community Inn’s conditional-use permit, alleging its permit application to the city did not say it was going to be an over-night shelter. In 2012, Catholic Action Center’s parent organization and Lexington Fair Housing filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development alleging the revocation of its permit violated federal fair-housing laws. That case was eventually turned over to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Sally Hamilton, the city’s chief administrative officer, and Janet Graham, the city’s law commissioner, and Art Crosby, executive director of Lexington Fair Housing, eventually worked out a settlement. As part of that settlement, Catholic Action Center paid $550,000 to the city for the Industry Road building. The city got ownership of the former Catholic Action Center day shelter on East Fifth Street, city officials said Monday. Lexington Fair Housing and Catholic Action dropped the federal fair housing complaint.
The Urban County Council approved the proposed settlement and transfer of the properties in September 2015. It took nearly a year of negotiations to hammer out all the details.