Fayette County

24 hours on Lexington’s streets kicks off fundraiser for homeless students

Dawn Brockman, left, Macy Brockman, 13, Ethan Thomas, 13, and Eric Thomas sat on the steps at Phoenix Park after eating dinner.
Dawn Brockman, left, Macy Brockman, 13, Ethan Thomas, 13, and Eric Thomas sat on the steps at Phoenix Park after eating dinner. mcornelison@herald-leader.com

Less than 20 minutes into their 24-hour experience of being homeless, the Thomas and Brockman families ran into a major obstacle.

There are no shelters in Lexington that serve entire families. However, Eric Thomas and his son Ethan, 13, and Dawn Brockman and her daughter Macy Brockman, 13, were not supposed to split up as part of the rules of the “Give Kids a Home” homeless experience and fundraising kick-off.

The Salvation Army downtown houses women and children. The Hope Center houses only men.

“That’s what families are facing,” Dawn Brockman said as the four conferred on the sidewalk outside the Community Inn on Winchester Road around 5:30 p.m. Tuesday. “That’s why we’re doing this.”

They considered sleeping outside on Tuesday night. Phoenix Park was a possibility, the group decided.

The Brockman and Thomas families were among 30 people who participated in Tuesday night’s 24-hour homeless event. The event, coordinated by the Stein Group, Community Action Council, and Catholic Action and the Community Inn, was the kick-off for a more than month-long fundraising effort to house more Fayette County schoolchildren who don’t have a permanent address.

The number of children classified as homeless has skyrocketed in the past several years. In 2012-2013, the district reported 410 homeless students; last school year, the number topped 1,000, said James Hodge, coordinator for homeless education for Fayette County schools.

Hodge, who started in his current position in August, is the district’s first full-time homeless education liaison. Fayette County has little money to address homeless students’ needs. The fundraising effort will help the school system get more students and their families into housing, Hodge said.

Because the city’s current shelter system does not house entire families, the city has allocated $100,000 for the next two years to Community Action for temporary family housing. The program has filled up quickly since it started in February; 14 families have been served, and there are 10 on a waiting list, said Melissa Kane, director of planning, communications and advancement for Community Action.

The bulk of the money raised from the fundraising effort will go toward augmenting the Community Action housing program so more families can be served.

An August 2016 article by the Herald-Leader highlighting the growth in homeless students prompted the fundraising effort. An August 2015 Herald-Leader series found that Kentucky had one of the highest rates of children classified as homeless in the country.

The school district defines children as homeless if they are living in a shelter, on the street or living “doubled up” with a relative or a friend. Permanent housing is key to students’ being able to learn, Hodge said.

Ginny Ramsey, co-founder of Catholic Action and Community Inn, told the participants in Tuesday night’s event that they would be facing many challenges over the next 24 hours, but for a good cause.

“It costs $700 a month to house a family,” Ramsey said. “We are hoping to start housing more families beginning in December.”

A Facebook page and social media campaign “Give Kids a Home” will document the group’s experience.

Participants were allowed to bring their cellphones and $3. They were provided two sack meals, two bottles of water and a garbage bag with a blanket. They also got a bus pass. On Tuesday night they split into seven teams of four or five people. They were also given challenges that they needed to complete in the next 24 hours. A plainclothes Lexington police officer was assigned to each group.

The participants were to return to the Community Inn at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.

The Brockman and Thomas challenge included finding Arbor Youth Services, a youth shelter, and attending a meeting there. They also had to find out where they could get free diapers and other baby supplies.

Before they headed toward downtown Lexington on Tuesday night, Macy Brockman helped Ethan Thomas as he tried to get his blanket into a small drawstring backpack that was provided to the group.

All of the groups struggled to figure out how to carry their few provisions.

Macy Brockman said she wanted to do the 24-hour homeless experience because she didn’t realize so many kids her age didn’t have a home.

“I’ve read about it,” Brockman said. “But I thought this was the best way to learn more.”

Beth Musgrave: 859-231-3205, @HLCityhall

“Give Kids A Home”

To follow the progress of more than 30 individuals who are participating in the 24-hour homeless experience and to find out how to donate go to www.givekidsahome.com on Facebook at www.facebook.com/GiveKidsAHome or follow on Instagram at @givekidsahome.