LOUISVILLE, Ky. — City leaders announced Louisville will resume clearing homeless encampments after a pause during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Louisville leaders insist they're still looking for a permanent solution and additional housing. But even with that, we're learning there are no clear-cut solutions for many.
Vincent James, Louisville Metro's chief of community building, said the city will likely resume risk assessments of encampments this week, and begin posting 21-day notices of clearing encampments "when warranted due to health and/or safety concerns."
In March, city officials said camps near Wayside Christian Mission and Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport would be cleaned but not cleared out as the city followed the CDC's shelter-in-place guidelines.
The CDC said, "Clearing encampments can cause people to disperse throughout the community and break connections with service providers. This increases the potential for infectious disease spread."
"During the height of the COVID pandemic, the city observed shelter-in-place guidelines — cleaning but not clearing, in order to mitigate the spread of the virus and to help facilitate the distribution of vaccines," the city said. "Since then, conditions at several camps have deteriorated, creating health and safety concerns."
Officials said the Metro Core Assessment team will join with nonprofit and volunteer outreach groups to address concerns at specific camps and connect residents with supportive services.
James also shared a four-phase plan for addressing the city's homelessness, including:
- A new initiative that establishes and manages an area that would provide a "Safe Space Outdoors," including wrap-around services designed to help people experiencing homelessness find sustainable housing;
- A transitional housing effort, possibly in a hotel setting, that would offer a quick transition to indoor housing;
- More permanent supportive housing options developed in partnership with service providers and
- Increased funding for affordable housing.
"Our intention anytime we encounter a person experiencing homelessness is to get them off the street, into a shelter and on a path to permanent, supportive housing," James said. "But there is no one-size-fits-all solution."
Mayor Greg Fischer’s team says it'll consider using American Rescue Plan funds to open up more affordable housing space. Fischer’s office, in partnership with Metro Council, is asking both the advocates and business leaders for their input and support as they begin implementing the four-phase plan, starting with the safe outdoor space initiative.
The announcement was met with slightly differing reactions from city leaders.
"This is the number one crisis in the city of Louisville Kentucky," said Metro Councilman Jecorey Arthur, representing District 4. "You're telling them to go somewhere else, and the reality is they have nowhere else to go."
Councilman Arthur tells WHAS11 that without building more affordable housing space, this won't bode well.
Meanwhile Metro Councilwoman Nicole George believes the alternative could be even worse.
"Where we draw the line is things like public right of ways, areas that are accessible to all people, and of course areas that are of risk and safety to the folks living in the camps," Councilwoman George said.
Nonprofit outreach organizations like The Forgotten Louisville gave out bags of groceries and medicine to local encampment sites on Wednesday, like they do each week. Tiny Herron leads the serve, giving them away to people living in tents across Louisville.
"The car stays loaded with supplies," Herron said. "Some people call it enabling, I just call it being a good Samaritan."
Two homeless camps right near I-264, just a few blocks part.
"I do understand that assessments do need to be made for the health and safety of the individuals in the encampment and the surrounding neighbors as well, but there's a humane way to do that," Herron said.
City leaders say they'll potentially use COVID-19 relief dollars to bridge resources to these camps, then connect them with transitional housing -- while lining up permanent ones.
"It's basically like being in a prison," said John Harrod, who helps out at encampments across the area.
But folks helping out say it's not that simple. They tell us in many cases, there are shelters. People just don't want to go.
"They don't feel safe, or they may not feel like they're treated with dignity," Herron said.
Herron says there is no one solution. She believes though there should always be many options.