Nearly one year after a city task force issued a 100-page report with recommendations on how to address the city's homeless population, only one of the report's recommendations has been implemented.
The Mayor's Commission on Homelessness report, released in January, included dozens of recommendations to address the city's estimated 1,500 homeless people. Some of those recommendations included creating an Office for Homeless Intervention and Prevention, slightly increasing taxes to create an affordable housing trust fund, developing stronger collaboration between service providers and having better data collection about those who need homeless services.
Mayor Jim Gray has implemented one of the recommendations: He set aside $120,000 to create an Office of Homeless Intervention and Prevention. But a director, who was supposed to oversee the implementation of the report's other recommendations, has not been named. The city decided to spend nearly $50,000 on an affordable housing study before hiring a director.
"We're doing this the right way, which takes time," Gray said. "We are following the timeline that I set out in the budget."
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Gray appointed the commission in 2012 after several years of problems surrounding homeless people in downtown Lexington. Those issues include concerns about the impact of downtown feeding programs on Phoenix Park and its neighbors, regulations surrounding day shelters and issues related to the operation of The Community Inn, a homeless shelter on Winchester Road.
Many, including Urban County Council members, have questioned why the city needed to spend more money on another study of affordable housing. Others are frustrated that the bulk of the commission's recommendations have not been implemented.
Debra Hensley, co-chairwoman of the commission, said some of the former commission members are worried that things aren't moving fast enough.
"One of the reasons why I got out of politics is that government moves about one-tenth my speed," Hensley said. "Is it moving fast enough? Absolutely not."
Gray said the study will help give the city more information to determine the best path forward and the best person for the new position. "The consultant's report will give us a good foundation for the next move forward," he said.
Part of the new director's duties will be to ensure that the recommendations included in the commission's report are followed, Gray said.
Councilman Steve Kay, who co-chaired the commission, said he expects the affordable housing study to be completed in January and a full-time director to be hired in the spring.
But Kay said that he hopes the commission's recommendations will gather steam after a director is named.
"This is an issue that absolutely needs to be addressed in our community," Kay said. "We've debated it for too long."
Hensley, a former city councilwoman who chaired a similar commission on homelessness in 1990, said she still hopes that the commission's recommendations will be carried out. Many of the 2013 recommendations mirror those in the 1990 report that were never acted on, Hensley said.
"I appreciate due process, and all options are currently on the table," Hensley said. "There is still opportunity to move forward."
The report proposed a slight increase on an insurance tax to fund the office, homeless initiatives and a trust fund to encourage more development of affordable housing units. A 2008 Affordable Housing Task Force recommended a similar increase in taxes. But the Urban County Council never voted on that proposal.
"They've never had enough votes to pass it," said David Christiansen, executive director of the Central Kentucky Housing and Homeless Initiative, a group of homeless providers. Even if a director is hired, "they will have an office and no funding," he said.
But Gray said that the consultant is also looking at whether an affordable trust fund is the best option. In some cities, affordable housing trust funds have not worked as well as expected, Gray said. Mayors of other cities that have them — including the mayor of Minneapolis — have questioned how effective they are, Gray said. Perhaps there are different options that would be a better fit for Lexington, Gray said.
Gray said he understands people's frustrations that the recommendations of the task force have not yet been actualized.
Rushing, however, can lead to problems, Gray said: "Regrettably, that often leads to half steps."
Janice James, commission member and administrative deputy director of the Hope Center, which houses more than 800 homeless people nearly every night and provides a host of other services, agreed with Gray.
"Good things take planning," James said. "The creation of this office will increase the collaboration between service providers and the local government."
MAYOR'S COMMISSION ON HOMELESSNESS
The Mayor's Commission on Homelessness included officials and participants from all walks of life. Here is a list of those who were involved:
Steve Kay, Lexington councilman, co-chairman
Debra Hensley, insurance agent, co-chairwoman
James P. "Ike" Adams, dean, University of Kentucky College of Social Work
Laura Babbage, clergy member and community volunteer
Michelle Beverly, Student Support Services director, Fayette County Public Schools
Rocky Burke, general manager, Lextran
Claudia Blaylock, chair, Central Kentucky Housing and Homeless Initiative
Linda Carroll, business owner and downtown resident
Alberto Carrillo, pastor, Bethel Hispanic Church
Catherine DeFlorio, Legal Aid of the Bluegrass
Mark Davis, pastor, First Presbyterian Church
Bill Embry, St. James Place
Kevin Fleming, Kentucky Department of Advocacy
Melody Flowers, assistant director for strategic planning, UK Healthcare.
Jessica Gies, aide to Councilman Bill Farmer
Peggy Henson, 11th District council member
Mary Hunter, homeless representative
Janice James, Hope Center deputy director and Recovery Program for Women director
Laverne Laine, Lexington Housing Authority
Sherry Maddock, East End resident
Randy Moler, Veterans Administration Medical Clinic
Douglas Pape, police department
Don Ralph, former director, Eastern State Hospital
Harry Richart, community volunteer
Kate Savage, community volunteer
Mike Scanlon, community volunteer
Tanya Torp, community engagement coordinator, United Way of the Bluegrass
Brian Varble, minister of missions and recreation, Calvary Baptist Church
Ginny Vicini, executive director, New Beginnings Bluegrass Inc.
Kyle Whalen, community volunteer
Kathy Witt, sheriff
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE COMMISSION'S REPORT
Here are the highest ranked recommendations in the Lexington Homeless Commission's report:
■ Increase the fee on insurance premiums 1 percent to create an Affordable Housing Trust Fund and to implement recommendations of report.
■ Set up an office, funded in part by the fee increase, within city government to coordinate homeless services and execute the recommendations in the report.
■ Create more affordable housing units to meet the needs of homeless and near-homeless.
COMING UP IN THE HERALD-LEADER
Monday: The Community Inn has become a flash point in Lexington over what to do with the city's growing homeless population. Its neighbors say they don't want the more than 100 homeless people in their neighborhood anymore. Here's what it's like to stay at the Community Inn and how three homeless people in Lexington got there.
Tuesday: Jenny and Harry Sebastian became homeless after their daughter became ill and could no longer care for her aging and disabled parents. The couple found themselves walking the streets of Lexington in October after they were dumped by their daughter. Elderly dumping is a trend that's becoming more common, social service providers say.
COMING UP ONLINE AND ON WKYT
Project: Homeless, a joint investigation by the Herald-Leader and WKYT, is available on Kenucky.com and WKYT.com. See additional reports on WKYT at 6 p.m. Sunday and 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. Monday.