Fayette County

Lexington council decides to wait on regulation of homeless shelters

Lexington's Urban County Council agreed Thursday to delay voting on a proposed regulation that would require any organization wanting to open a homeless shelter in the city to get a permit from the Board of Adjustment.

Council member Steve Kay, co-chairman of Mayor Jim Gray's Homeless Commission, said the commission asked that the regulation not be voted on until after the commission makes its report in mid-January.

Kay asked that the regulation be sent to the council's planning commission for further consideration, including perhaps changing the name.

The regulation would create a new definition for an adult day-care center and require a permit if such a facility is located closer than 500 feet from a residential area. Neighbors would have to be notified, and a public hearing before the Board of Adjustment would be required.

The regulation would also apply to other kinds of centers, such as those for seniors or the mentally disabled. A homeless shelter would be considered an adult day-care center.

However, the name "adult day care center" has become an issue. Vice Mayor Linda Gorton said the term is defined by state law, and several organizations — including the Senior Services Commission — had contacted her to say that a regulation of adult day care centers that is actually intended to regulate homeless shelters would be confusing.

At a recent council work session, council member Chris Ford said the proposal was prompted by the daytime homeless shelter that opened in December at 224 North Martin Luther King Boulevard in the former Fraternal Order of Police Hall.

At a neighborhood meeting with Steve Polston, who organized the New Life Day Center, many residents said they found out about the shelter only a few days before it was to open.

Ford said the shelter went in without proper notification to neighbors.

Requiring public notification is not intended to thwart, Ford said, but to allow discussion between a proposed center and its neighbors.

Gray in May said he would appoint a commission on homelessness, asking it to examine issues surrounding Lexington's homeless population and recommend changes. He named the members of the commission in July.

The Mayor's Commission on Homelessness includes advocates for people who are homeless, homeless people, neighbors, faith community members, concerned residents, business leaders, neighborhood leaders and council members.

Kay, whose professional career has involved managing public engagement projects, is chairman of the commission. Debra Hensley, a businesswoman and former council member who was one of the leaders of the drive to build the Hope Center, was named co-chair.