As if to prove the adage "no good deed goes unpunished," organizers of temporary shelters in Lexington are being criticized for trying to "hide" the homeless during the World Equestrian Games.
We agree with those who say we shouldn't wait until a big downtown event to address chronic human suffering. That's true, of course.
But the righteously outraged will be disappointed to learn there's no insensitive plot to spruce up downtown by temporarily ridding it of street people. No city, tourism or WEG officials are behind the plan to offer a mattress and clean sheets to those who might be displaced by the influx of people and activities for the Spotlight Lexington festival which begins Friday.
On the contrary, the idea of temporary shelters came from those who live or have lived on Lexington's streets. They began to worry about themselves and others who sleep in empty corners downtown when those corners fill up with people and cars.
These concerns were given voice by an unusual group that's been active in Lexington for almost a year, the Street Voice Council, made up of people who have or are experiencing homelessness. (The Street Voice Council is also responsible for the original play Please Don't Call Me Homeless . . . I Don't Call You Homed, which played to sellout audiences at the Downtown Arts Center last month and will be presented a number of times around Lexington this fall.)
When the Catholic Action Center's Ginny Ramsey and others who provide services realized less than two weeks ago the scale of what's coming, they sprang into action. With so little time, they understandably thought of it as an emergency.
They also recognized it as an opportunity.
Many of the people who sleep outdoors year-round struggle with addiction or mental illness and distrust strangers, much less "authorities," and institutional settings.
The dislocations from the downtown festival created an opportunity to connect with people who are isolated while living in full public view. That connection could put some on the road to permanent housing. At the very least, it will put them in touch with medical care.
Since word went out, 100 volunteers have been trained to staff the temporary shelters, Ramsey said. Another 150 have volunteered supplies and other assistance, and 300 have sent contributions, ranging from $10 to $1,000.
One of the shelters, provided by Central Christian Church, is at the corner of Martin Luther King Boulevard and Corral Street. The other, the Catholic Action Center, 400 East 5th St., opens 24/7 during cold months and is simply starting its 24-hour schedule early. The Catholic Action Center lacks dormitory space; those who shelter there get a chair, blanket and food. The shelters will be open from 7:30 p.m. until 8 a.m.
As many have said, the needs won't end when the festivities fade.
Lexington needs more beds for people who reject or do not fit into existing shelters. There's also a desperate need for more federal housing vouchers to move people off the streets into permanent housing. And organizers need to finish raising money to pay for the temporary shelters.