Fayette County

Lexington may set aside $200,000 for homeless shelter in city-owned building on Industry Road

On Tuesday, the Urban County Council will consider setting aside $200,000 of a $2.2 million surplus to convert a city-owned building into a homeless shelter.

Sally Hamilton, Lexington's chief administrative officer, said Monday that the city wants the council to consider setting aside the money to possibly move a Winchester Road homeless shelter to a city-owned building on Industry Road.

Hamilton said the city and the Community Inn are scheduled to go to mediation on Dec. 3 over a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development fair housing complaint surrounding the revocation of the Community Inn's permit in 2012.

The Industry Road building — which used to house the city's employment center — has been mentioned as a possible site for the shelter.

But Hamilton emphasized that no final decisions have been made. Those details will be worked out during negotiations.

Ginny Ramsey, co-founder of the Catholic Action Center, a day shelter, and the Community Inn, said the Industry Road proposal has not been finalized and is only one part of the settlement negotiations between the city and the homeless shelter.

"We are looking at many different options," Ramsey said. "We are pleased that the city is willing to go to mediation."

The federal housing investigation is just one part of a two-year legal fight between the Community Inn and the city over whether the shelter can continue to operate on Winchester Road.

The Community Inn filed a lawsuit in Fayette Circuit Court in July 2012 after the Board of Zoning Adjustment revoked its conditional-use permit in June 2012.

Community Inn representatives argued that the board violated the open meetings act by discussing the case outside of an open meeting. They also argued that operating a homeless shelter was part of the mission of the church and was protected as "freedom of religion."

In September 2013, Fayette Circuit Judge Pamela Goodwine ruled that the board did not violate the open meetings statute. Goodwine then ruled in September 2014 that the city did not violate the group's religious freedom by revoking the permit.

Meanwhile, in September 2012, the Lexington Fair Housing Council filed a complaint with HUD alleging that revoking the permit violated federal fair housing laws. Those laws say people cannot be denied housing based on race, sex or disability. The complaint alleges that Community Inn's clients have mental health and addiction problems — and that they cannot be denied housing under the federal Fair Housing Act.

The complaint was later amended when the city passed an ordinance for day shelters that requires anyone who serves the poor or the homeless during daylight hours to receive a special permit. Fair Housing advocates cried foul, saying the city could not require those that serve the poor to get a special permit.

Even if all the parties come to agreement on Dec. 3, HUD must sign off on the agreement, Ramsey said.

The council allocated $1,237,850 of the $2.2 million last week. It has a little less than $1 million left to allocate. Hamilton said the $200,000 would be used to add bathing and bathroom areas at the Industry Road building.

Ramsey said the two sides need to come to a resolution soon. The Community Inn is operating at capacity as temperatures plummet. Twenty-eight people stayed overnight at the Catholic Action Center on Sunday night.

"We are seeing a lot of new homeless people," Ramsey said. "We aren't sure why. There are a lot of elderly and disabled. Many have come here looking for jobs because of our low unemployment rate. About 45 percent of the people who stay at the Community Inn work full time."