Fayette County

Homeless families will soon have more options for shelter in Lexington

Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government council chambers.
Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government council chambers.

Homeless two-parent families in Fayette County will soon have more housing options thanks to a new program designed to address a gap in Lexington’s homeless shelter system.

Lexington’s Urban County Council is expected to give final approval Dec. 8 for a two-year pilot program run by Central Kentucky Community Action Council. The contract is for $100,000 per year.

The program will allow families to stay for up to seven days in a hotel. Then those families can move to a Community Action Council apartment for up to 90 days while council staff works with the family to find permanent housing and stability, said Melissa Kane, director of planning, communications and advancement for Community Action Council.

The city’s shelter system has limited space for two-parent families or elderly couples who want to remain together. The Salvation Army serves single mothers and children and has limited space for fathers and mothers and children. The Hope Center serves mostly men. The Community Inn serves both men and women but on separate floors.

Not only do two-parent families have limited options, homeless fathers with children are sometimes forced to go to the Hope Center but their children must stay at Arbor Youth Services, the city’s homeless shelter for kids and children. It’s a decision no parent should have to make, homeless advocates say.

“This has been a primary need and the the biggest gap in our system that I have seen since I took this position,” said Charlie Lanter, the city’s director of the office of homeless prevention and intervention. Lanter, the city’s first homeless services coordinator, has been in the position since May 2014. “I know for a fact that there are families that need this. I get a call about once a week from someone.”

Lexington trails other cities in its services to homeless families. Louisville has three different homeless shelters that serve intact families. Cincinnati also has shelters that serve intact families.

Because the city’s shelter system has so little space for families, families and kids are under-counted and under-served, Lanter said.

“We think a lot of these families are living in their cars,” Lanter said.

The city has been meeting with the city’s shelter providers, housing advocates and others for more than nine months to come up with a solution for homeless families. Two different organizations responded to the city’s request for proposals for a homeless emergency housing option for families. Community Action Council’s proposal was unique — it will partner with a host of social service agencies — and cost-effective. Instead of a brick-and-mortar shelter, the apartments and hotels offers families with children privacy, Lanter said.

Kane said families must demonstrate that they cannot be served by other shelters before being accepted into the program that is limited to Fayette County families. Kane said the goal is to serve 16 families a year, but that number could change depending on how long a family needs to stay in housing.

I know for a fact that there are families that need this. I get a call about once a week from someone.

Charlie Lanter, director of Lexington’s office of homeless prevention and intervention

“We may have a family that only needs to stay temporarily in a hotel for a few days,” Kane said. “We may have families that need to stay a little more than the 90 days. It will depend on a family’s situation.”

In addition, Community Action has applied for federal funds for long-term housing for families. The city will learn in the spring if Community Action received the more than $300,000 in federal funding for its long-term housing program called Rapid Rehousing.

“That will provide a continuum of housing for families,” Lanter said.

If the contract is approved by the Urban County Council, the new emergency housing options for families will also benefit Fayette County schools, which have seen a surge in the number of homeless children in school, mirroring statewide trends.

“It’s an important first step and we applaud the work of the city’s Office of Homelessness Prevention and Intervention and the Community Action Council,” said Lisa Deffendall, spokeswoman for Fayette County schools. “Our schools are a reflection of our community, so as homelessness has grown in Lexington, the number of children facing shelter insecurity has risen dramatically.”

The U.S. Department of Education classifies children as homeless if they are living outside, in a car, recreational vehicle, shelter, hotel or living “doubled up” with a relative, friend or neighbor because of financial hardship. In Fayette County, the number of children who are classified as homeless doubled in three years from 393 in 2011-2012 to a high of 795 in 2014-2015. Kids without permanent addresses score much lower on standardized tests and get much lower grades than kids who are not homeless, state and local education data shows.

In an Aug. 30 series, the Herald-Leader found Kentucky has the highest percentage of homeless kids in the country —5 percent of its total population. Yet, there is less than $1 million in federal funding to address homeless students’ needs. Only 17 of the state’s 172 school districts receive the funding. Fayette County receives a little less than $50,000 to address needs of nearly 800 homeless students.

Kane and Lanter said if the council gives final approval on Dec. 8, the program will begin in early January.

“Our goal was to have this up and running by winter,” Lanter said.