Fayette County

Groups discuss homeless in Phoenix Park

A place for homeless people to spend the day instead of congregating in Phoenix Park was identified Monday as a need for downtown.

"Ideally, it would be a multi-agency project where they could have a shower, wash their clothes, get food, but there would be someone there to direct them to services in the community, so it just wouldn't be a flop center," said Amber Cronen, assistant director of programs at the men's Hope Center, describing how a daytime drop-in center might function.

Services could include food stamps, signing up for Social Security and medical treatment.

Representatives of about 30 city agencies, churches and non-profit groups met Monday to brainstorm ideas for reducing the number of homeless who congregate in Phoenix Park, leave trash, nap on the grass and verbally accost passers-by.

Complaints from business owners and Park Plaza residents have increased in recent months. "It's disgusting," said Joe Williams, who works in the Friends of the Library bookstore in the library neighboring the park.

In a survey of business owners by Downtown Lexington Corp., 93 percent said homeless people had damaged the businesses' property or caused them to lose customers.

"A drop-in center has to be a place where people want to go," said David Christiansen, director of the Central Kentucky Housing and Homelessness Initiative. He suggested the concept be instituted on a trial basis "to see if we can make it work."

Developer Timothy Smith of Smith & Smith Construction volunteered to look for grant money to fund a drop-in center and address other needs of Lexington's homeless.

Because of the park's high visibility at East Main Street and South Limestone, the city is under pressure to clean it up for the 2010 World Equestrian Games, Christiansen said.

However, Jessica Gies, Downtown Lexington Corp. vice president of business development, said that while the games brought the situation to light, "We're looking for a long-term solution, not just clearing out the park for the games."