Fayette County

Lexington counts its homeless

Ernest Ray Proffitt is homeless and says he lives "100 percent on the street" and has for about three years. Without revealing where he stays, Proffitt said on Wednesday night that he sleeps "in a cubby hole."

Proffitt, 43, has been on the streets long enough that he knows many other homeless people, and where to find Lexington's homeless camps, hidden from view.

Last week, he took a stack of flyers to hand out at these places, inviting homeless people to Central Christian Church fellowship hall on Thursday for a free burger and drink and to be counted.

Every two years, states are required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to count the homeless in their community in a 24-hour period during the last 10 days of January.

Kentucky does a count every year on the last Thursday in January.

HUD uses that count to make allocations to Kentucky and individual communities for homeless programs, said Laurent Houekpon, state coordinator of the Point-in-Time Count, administered by the Kentucky Housing Corp.

Thursday, from the wee hours of the morning until midnight, volunteers fanned out in Lexington to count this hard-to-reach population.

"The more people we count, the more HUD funding there is," said Ginny Ramsey, executive director of the Catholic Action Center. "We're working to be as thorough as possible."

For the first time, Lexington's homeless — part of the new Street Voice Council — helped with the count.

Ramsey said organizers hope that the homeless would be more inclined to participate if asked by one of their own.

The Catholic Action Center, working with the Downtown Lexington Corp. and others, organized the council in the fall.

During the past several days, members of the Street Voice Council, including Profitt, took stacks of flyers to places where the homeless go, including the bus terminal, Rupp Arena parking lot, and churches that feed the hungry.

At 11 a.m. Thursday, when doors opened at Central Christian, the homeless started arriving.

By about 12:30 p.m., the count was close to 80. "We've got 80 people who wouldn't be counted otherwise," Ramsey said. "We thought if we could get 50 or 60, it would be great."

People were given food and a form to fill out asking a variety of questions that could be answered by checking a box. Where are you staying right now? Why don't you have housing now? How long have you been homeless? Have you ever been diagnosed with mental illness?

Volunteers were available to help people fill out the forms.

After dark, six or seven cars and vans, driven by Catholic Action volunteers, were to go to outdoor camps and parking lots at places like Wal-Mart, where people live in their cars, to continue the count.

Last year's count showed 1,200 to 1,300 homeless in Lexington, a number Ramsey said was "way off."

"If we were accurate, we would come up with a count of 2,500," she said. "If we get up to 1,800, that would be closer to the accurate number."