Fayette County

Advocates look for Lexington's homeless to invite them to shelter on a cold night

On Tuesday night, when many Christians around the world were celebrating Epiphany, the commemoration of the wise men's successful search for the baby Jesus, several dozen Lexingtonians were on a search of their own.

In anticipation of the coldest weather so far this winter, the Catholic Action Center sent out teams of volunteers to look for the city's homeless. Their goal was to persuade as many as possible to move to one of the city shelters until the cold period is over.

The volunteers, known as the Compassionate Caravan, paired up, many accompanied by residents of the Community Inn who know from personal experience where homeless people stay.

Together, they searched campsites, under bridges, in parking garages and parking lots where people were known to sleep in their cars.

The volunteers hit the streets about 8 p.m. Tuesday and in a few hours transported 33 people to local shelters.

In addition to the volunteers' search, police officers brought seven people to the Community Inn in the first half-hour after it opened, said Ginny Ramsey, an advocate for the homeless.

Those who did not accept a ride to a shelter were offered coats and blankets by the volunteers.

The Rev. Leon Slatter, pastor of Cadentown Missionary Baptist Church, brought his church bus out on the search and was joined by volunteers Katie Gammon and David Burnett.

At their first stop, the Leestown Road viaduct, they trekked across railroad tracks to an SUV parked under the overpass. Burnett shined a flashlight in the window. "Hey man, you want to go to the shelter?" he asked the man in the back seat. "You need a coat or anything?"

Later, Slatter pulled up alongside a couple walking on a sidewalk. "Are you all comfortable tonight?" he asked. "Do you need a coat?"

The man gladly accepted a coat.

"We're here to offer them hospitality and warmth," Ramsey said. "They may just want to see your smile and know that somebody cares enough to go out and look for them."

Charlie Lanter, Lexington's homeless prevention and intervention director, said this week that the city would activate its 2014-15 winter weather plan Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. That includes liberalized admission policies at Lexington's homeless shelters, so more needy people can get out of the cold.

Under the plan, the Hope Center, Catholic Action Center, Arbor Youth Services MASH Drop Inn Center, and the Salvation Army's shelter for unaccompanied women and women with children shift to 24-hour operations.

Daytime warming centers will be open at New Life Day Center, 224 North Martin Luther King Boulevard; Arbor Youth Outreach Center, 540 West Third Street; Senior Citizens Center, 1530 Nicholasville Road; and Dunbar Community Center, 545 North Upper Street.