Fayette County

New building would ease overcrowding at Hope Center

On a typical night at the Hope Center, mattresses are laid out on floors all over the building because of the shortage of beds at the emergency shelter on Loudon Avenue. Construction is expected to start in the fall on a $2 million building to relieve overcrowding.
On a typical night at the Hope Center, mattresses are laid out on floors all over the building because of the shortage of beds at the emergency shelter on Loudon Avenue. Construction is expected to start in the fall on a $2 million building to relieve overcrowding. © Mark Cornelison

Will Rogers pulled a mattress from a stack against the wall and dragged it to an empty space on the floor.

He was surrounded by dozens of men doing the same. This is their bedroom: mattresses on the floor in a hallway or cafeteria, with hundreds of homeless people for roommates. But Rogers said things could be worse: He could be on the streets seeking drugs or getting high.

"I've slept outside, slept behind bars. I don't mind sleeping on the floor," he said. "I've slept in worse situations than this."

Rogers, 31, has been staying at the Hope Center emergency shelter since July 12. The facility, at 360 West Loudon Avenue, provides food, shelter and clothing to homeless men.

Rogers is among 200 people who stay in the shelter each night. The center has 118 beds.

A new $2 million building, funded by a $1 million grant from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Cincinnati and private donations, is in the works to help with the overcrowding. Walter May, director of special projects, said he expects construction to start in the fall, with the new building opening by next summer. It will house about 120 people.

A combination of factors is causing an increase in the shelter's population, May said. The economy has created more hardship, people are staying longer than they used to, and the shelter's proximity to interstate highways brings in people from Central and Eastern Kentucky.

But the overflow is nothing new. May said the night the shelter opened in 1993, it was over capacity by more than 60 people. Conference rooms have been converted into bedrooms in an effort to provide more space. The center works with churches to help house overnight visitors when the numbers get overwhelming.

"We never turn anyone away from lack of capacity, but we clearly have a capacity problem," May said.

Job loss and addiction

Six years ago Rogers, originally from Frankfort, worked selling cars in Lawrenceburg. When the dealership shut down, he found himself bouncing between odd jobs and uncertainty, falling into addiction. Drugs and alcohol cost him work and destroyed his marriage. He said drugs are the reason he doesn't get to see his kids.

Rogers, wearing shorts and a white tank top, chatted with the front desk staff before a smoke break Wednesday night. Before sitting down, he ran to put a on gray T-shirt, so he could "look decent."

Rogers, like many others at the Hope Center, doesn't consider himself to be really homeless. He has family. He could find a place to stay if he wanted to, he said.

Most people who are going to stay the night show up for dinner so they can claim a mattress.

The line for dinner at the shelter starts to form about 4 p.m. and usually winds through the cafeteria out to the lobby doors. Once the men sign in to stay the night, they can't go in and out of the building as they please. Some lie around and read tattered paperback novels they pull from trash bags that serve as suitcases. Others go straight to sleep.

Rogers said the smells and sights of grown men sleeping feet to face on the ground are hard to take, but he said no one really cares as long as they just get inside.

"Most people have shelter and are content. You don't have to worry about sleeping outside, sleeping by the railroad tracks or getting robbed," he said.

Rogers is in the Hope Center's drug treatment program, based at the George Privett Recovery Center down the street from the center's emergency shelter. But many of those in drug treatment, like Rogers, live in the shelter because there aren't enough beds at the recovery center to accommodate all the clients.

The emergency shelter also houses mental health patients, a detox program, housing for those released from prison and an employment program.

The new building will be home to the programs so participants may move out of the shelter, which will open up their beds for homeless men not enrolled in programs.

"We need to get programs out of this building so we can use this for an emergency shelter," May said.

'Hope Center Hilton'

May said the new building will be limited to those enrolled in programs such as mental health, employment or transitional housing, and the Privett Center will still house the drug treatment program. The shelter will once again be used for its original purpose as an emergency place for short-term stays. May said the shelter is a temporary stop, but the program facilities provide long-term solutions to homelessness. He said the Privett Center will be a model for the new building.

Called the "Hope Center Hilton" by those in the shelter, the Privett Center houses about 130. Each participant has a bed, and dorm-style rooms have their own bathrooms. The kitchen's appliances still shine, and walls are painted in bright colors.

The shelter has five showers. May said the new building would have a larger kitchen, so the shelter kitchen could be converted into more showers.

The new facility will be across the street from the shelter. By offering a comfortable place to live, May said, the new building will give the homeless incentive to get off the floor of the emergency shelter and enroll in a program.

More shelter beds probably will bring in more homeless, but May said the facility doesn't encourage people to stay homeless by offering an easy fix. Instead, it will get more people in the door so they can see what their options are: drug rehabilitation, employment or mental health counseling.

Rogers said he hopes to stick with the treatment program. He said he's willing to accept any job.

"There are drifters here who have made a career out of being homeless," Rogers said. "That's not what I want to be."

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader