Three times in the last six weeks, families have abandoned elderly relatives at the Community Inn, a night shelter on Winchester Road, co-director Ginny Ramsey said.
"It is the same kind of abandonment that one would think of with a child because these were people who were unable to take care of themselves," Ramsey said.
Sometimes elderly people come into Lexington homeless shelters on their own, Ramsey said, but "we've never seen" families abandon elderly relatives.
When shelter officials tracked down two of the three families, Ramsey said, the family members said "they just couldn't deal with them anymore. That was it. They were done."
Beth Mills, commissioner of Social Services, said she has talked to Ramsey about the problem, and the city is concerned.
"We will be meeting with the state and other professionals to address possible solutions," Mills said.
Elsewhere in Kentucky, officials aren't getting reports of elderly people being abandoned at shelters.
"Reports of elderly relatives being abandoned at shelters are rare," said Gwenda Bond, a spokeswoman for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. Bond said the Cabinet's adult protective services staff has not experienced an increase in such reports.
The first of the three reports of abandonment at the Community Inn, 824 Winchester Road, came in mid-August, when a relative left an elderly man who was on a walker and had a colostomy bag, Ramsey said. The man stayed for three nights.
"With help, he could get down on an air mattress," Ramsey said. "Security folks would help him get up. He had to stay near the restroom. He was placed near security workers so they could give him care through the night."
Finally, one of the man's sons picked him up, Ramsey said.
In another case, a woman dropped off her mother, who was in a wheelchair, one evening before the shelter opened at 7 p.m.
The elderly woman spent the night at the shelter, Ramsey said. Other women who were seeking shelter at the Community Inn cared for her through the night, and the woman was eventually taken to Lexington's Salvation Army.
The most recent case was about two weeks ago, when an elderly woman was dropped off in the middle of the afternoon, Ramsey said.
She told shelter staff that her family had kicked her out and she had no place to go. Shelter officials notified police. Ramsey said the centers that she co-directs — the daytime Catholic Action Center and the nighttime Community Inn — are not set up to handle elderly people on an emergency basis.
"It may take several days before we can connect them to a service that can help them," she said.
In all three of the recent cases, Ramsey said they were able to work out solutions in a few days.
Ramsey said her staff also found housing for a 72-year-old woman who was brought to a shelter office by a Lexington resident who saw the woman in a downtown park. The woman said her family would not allow her to live with them after she was released from Eastern State Hospital, a Lexington mental health center, Ramsey said.