Meeting on homelessness highlights need for shelter

Published 2:12 pm Friday, December 15, 2023

By Fiona Morgan

Close to 200 local residents attended a community meeting about homelessness in Boyle County, hosted by the City of Danville on Dec. 6.

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City leaders along with Danville Police Chief Tony Gray held the meeting at City Hall as an opportunity for community members and local organizations to share their thoughts and experiences with the homeless in Danville.

Local residents and representatives of many local organizations attended, filling every seat in the city commission meeting room, and filling a large overflow room in the basement. Gray estimated there to be almost 200 people.

City Commission members were in attendance to listen to residents’ concerns and presentations on the issue, in order to gain a full understanding of the scope of homelessness in Boyle County. Gray explained that the meeting was a starting point for further discussion and action-planning, identifying groups to help combat homelessness.

“The discussion tonight is an attempt to come together collectively to discuss homelessness, what it is, how big it is, if any problems are arising from it, and how we can go about implementing a solution,” Gray said. “Homelessness is a very complicated issue that affects many communities differently and in turn requires a community-specific solution.”

Gray estimates that there are more than 100 unhoused people in the county. He said that police know of at least six homeless encampments in Boyle County; and according to Kentucky Department of Education statistics, there are 66 known homeless school age children in Boyle County.

Gray showed several photos of homeless encampments in Danville, which he said police deal with often. Some of the encampments are on Smith Street, East Main Street, Southtown Drive, and Ridgeway Drive, which Gray said are only a few but there are more.

“Some of the encampments move and change as it gets colder, these people will move indoors,” Gray said. “I get calls from the post office, it stays open 24 hours so when it gets colder they will move into the post office. They’ll move into Constitution Square, some of those buildings, sometimes bathrooms, sometimes the bathrooms at Millennium Park… I’m well aware of just about where every homeless individual is in this community.”

Centre College students made a brief presentation about a survey they conducted on local homelessness. The Sociological Research Methods class taught by Dr. Kaelyn Wiles surveyed 25 people who are homeless in Boyle County, gathering valuable statistics.

One major takeaway from the study is that homelessness is not mainly caused by substance abuse, mental or physical illness, etc. While those things are risk factors, a lack of affordable housing can be attributed as a main cause of homelessness in the county.

For a breakdown of the survey results, people can read the Advocate-Messenger article titled “Centre survey provides data on local homelessness” published in the Dec. 12 print edition.

Boyle County still has no shelter

While different organizations in the county provide food, clothes and sometimes temporary shelter to the homeless, there has not been a 24/7 emergency homeless shelter in Boyle County for many years.

There has not been a local agency specifically dedicated to help the homeless get shelter. However, some organizations have come together to figure out how to best address the issue.

The Boyle County Agency for Substance Abuse Policy (ASAP) is one such organization. It’s a community coalition made up of local agencies including Shepherds House, the jail, the Health Department, Goodwill, Salvation Army and others. ASAP Coordinator Kathy Miles explained in the meeting that while their primary mission is addressing substance abuse, members of the coalition see many homeless people in their work.

In 2021, ASAP along with other agencies formed an ad-hoc group that gathered information on homelessness over several months. They looked at local, regional, state and national data, and wrote a summary report. The group shared their findings with key stakeholders and elected officials.

Miles explained that during that same time period, the Housing Authority of Danville received a small grant to address homelessness that was related to Covid-19. They operated two temporary occupancy apartments and provided many brief hotel stay vouchers for people who were homeless.

In 2022, the Housing Authority began working on a plan to form a separate non-profit that would provide homeless services and a homeless shelter, according to Miles. They had fundraising, worked with the city to look for a site, made a presentation to members of the faith community, and worked to raise awareness and create community acceptance of the need.

However, Miles explained that the Housing Authority announced in August of this year that they would not move forward with plans for a homeless shelter.

“After staff leadership changes and many demands on their current services, they began to realize that they did not have the capacity to move forward with planning to operate a homeless shelter,” Miles said.

Since then, no other agency has stepped up to clearly say that they plan to operate a 24/7 emergency shelter in the county.

Community comments

After hearing background information from Miles, Health Department Director Brent Blevins, and the survey results from Centre students, many community members had the opportunity to share their thoughts and experiences with the homeless.

Gray gave each person three minutes to speak at the podium. Community comments went for almost an hour, during which representatives of local groups as well as individual citizens spoke.

One common thread that many agreed on is that Boyle County needs a homeless shelter, and needs more affordable housing.

Amy Anness, who works at the Boyle County Health Department’s Syringe Exchange program, said they serve 115 individuals at the Syringe Exchange program that identify as either unstably housed or homeless.

Anness explained that she battled substance use disorder and homelessness in 2014. She’s in long-term recovery and has been sober almost 10 years. Anness said in 2014, there was no homeless shelter in Boyle County.

“I found myself in Danville, Kentucky without a place to live, without a car, without any resources,” Anness said. “Unfortunately here in 2023, where I’m just about six months shy of my 10 year sobriety anniversary, there’s still no shelter. There is still no place for people to lay their heads down.”

Anness said she had stayed at a Salvation Army homeless shelter in Lexington, but that they shouldn’t have to take Boyle County residents to another city to receive services. She said while providing food and other resources helps, it does not solve the overall problem of getting people into housing.

“We do have an abundance of resources coming together to do this, but that’s still just a band-aid,” Anness said. “It is not a comprehensive, sustainable plan for individuals experiencing homelessness.”

Tanya Buchanan, a resident of Danville, agreed that people should not have to go to another county to stay in a shelter.

“I don’t think that people should have to be carried off to another county or relocated when this is the place that they call home because one shelter does not exist in Danville,” Buchanan said. “If this issue were more out and exposed you might find people that have money that they’re just sitting on that would be interested in aligning with a cause such as this.”

Another local resident Stacie Ford, who said she’s a recovering alcoholic and now works at Shepherds House, believes that the biggest concern should be getting people under a roof. With winter coming, she said people who are homeless can and have frozen to death outside in Danville.

“What happens three months from now when it gets so cold and you have people living in tents, living on a sidewalk, living in a car, living in a van, living under church steps, they die, and we did nothing about it, and that’s my main concern as far as the homeless,” Ford said.

Assistant Boyle County Attorney Sarah Bryant said that as the winter months come, local homeless people commit crimes solely to get into jail.

“This is the time of year that the jail population grows exponentially and our court dockets rise and crime rises, and you would be surprised why, because it’s cold,” Bryant said. “For so many of these people out here, being in jail is better than being on the streets, because in jail they get a warm bed, they get three meals a day, they get a shower. Jail is not a homeless shelter; we need to do better as a community.”

Hannah Marquez is a social worker and director of Alteri Behavioral Health, which is a mental health and substance abuse treatment provider. She talked about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which is an idea in psychology that basic needs always need to be met before someone can thrive.

“It’s a triangle, and at the very top there’s things like self-actualization, and that’s where we see people in long-term recovery and having a purpose and doing all these wonderful things; but at the very bottom are their basic human needs,” Marquez said.

She explained that people leaving treatment facilities sometimes have nowhere to go after their stay is done, which can make it much more difficult to recover.

“People don’t get better if their needs aren’t met,” Marquez said. “I’m really just sick of hearing people say that this is a multifaceted problem, because housing is a unique problem. Housing is not substance use, housing is not mental health, housing is not employment, it’s none of those things. Housing is housing. No one’s getting a job, no one’s getting better, and no one’s recovering unless they’re housed.”

What’s already being done

Several community members pointed out that there should be one central point of contact for people who are homeless in the county, who can connect them to resources, provide case management, and possibly operate a shelter.

With several different groups offering food, clothing, showers, etc., and different places providing case management and other resources, people must go to many different places to get what they need. Community members generally agreed that there should be more communication and collaboration between existing agencies, and that the homeless would benefit from either one coalition or one dedicated homeless nonprofit.

The Boyle County Fiscal Court recently approved a homelessness task force made up of local volunteers and representatives from groups including ASAP, Syringe Exchange, the jail, churches, etc. The first meeting of the task force will be in January.

In 2022, the Danville Boyle County Development Corporation, then known as the EDP, commissioned a study on workforce housing in Boyle County. Completed in the fall of 2022, the study indicated a huge need in Boyle County for more affordable single family housing, more rental units, and various other forms of housing.

Miles said that much of the problem of homelessness is not having enough affordable housing. People can contact Josh Gooch at to request a copy of the housing study.

Some current efforts to provide resources to the homeless include the following:

• The Health Department received a grant to provide the homeless with brief stays in a hotel. Director Brent Blevins said that the grant is related to Covid-19, where people have to agree to be tested for Covid or to have been recently exposed. Brent said the program has exploded, and at the rate they are giving people hotel stays, the grant fund could run out by February 2024.

• Local resident Carol Turner started a program in September called God’s Grace Club. She said in the meeting that they are in the process of becoming a nonprofit organization to help the homeless.

They conduct fundraisers and go out to feed the homeless every week. They make meals at Bethel Baptist Church’s facilities, and take it to the homeless. Turner said they take donations like gently used clothes and blankets, and they’ll bring clothes and food to the homeless.

• St. Peter and Paul Catholic Church has a soup ministry one day a week. The Amen Corner is also part of the church, and they now offer laundry vouchers to the homeless. People can take the free Bluegrass Ride bus in Danville to Duke Coin Laundry and get a load of laundry done. Money is put directly into the laundry machines and not given to the individual. The church also just started offering showers at the Bunny Davis facility to the homeless.

• Heart of Kentucky United Way held a duffle packing charity event on Thursday for the homeless. Stephanie Blevins with United Way, which serves four counties, said they get several phone calls a day about somebody who’s homeless. She said they hope to do more homeless programming, but no organization can do it alone.

Above are only some of the local efforts.

Mayor James Atkins said the community meeting was the first of hopefully many, and that city leaders will review people’s questions and comments to determine possible courses of action. The city expects to hold another community meeting on homelessness after the new year.

To watch the full meeting, go to the City of Danville Youtube page and click on the video titled “Danville City Homelessness Discussion – 12/6/2023.”