Homelessness followup meeting highlights local efforts to help, DHS students started volunteer club to help the homeless

Published 4:00 pm Thursday, April 4, 2024


A public discussion was held at Danville City Hall on March 20 to follow up on the homelessness discussion meeting held in December of last year. The follow-up meeting primarily served to provide concerned citizens with information about various community groups and efforts to aid those in Danville experiencing homelessness.

The meeting was opened by Danville Chief of Police Tony Gray. Gray explained that although he has compassion for people experiencing homelessness, Danville PD will still vacate them from a property if the owner requests it. He wants to provide help instead of just throwing the homeless population in jail.

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“It is not their property, they don’t have the owner’s permission to be there, so I have to tell them to leave,” Gray said. “I don’t want to take them to jail, they have an inmate population they are trying to stay under. That is a burden on them which becomes a burden to the courthouse. Homelessness is a very complicated issue. We’re not going to solve the problem today in these 90 minutes but it is worthy of a discussion and worthy of trying to figure out what is best for our community.”

County Magistrate Steve Sleeper spoke about the progress made by the Homelessness Task Force formed after the December meeting. The task force consists of 19 members and has had four meetings so far.

“There is no one-size-fits-all solution,” Sleeper said. “We want to find sustainable, effective, and meaningful solutions. The task force is divided into several small committees looking into different aspects of the problem.”

He went on to explain that the task force has met with several local churches to help organize their efforts. The task force has been studying various methods of sheltering and transitional housing.

“There are several different options out there,” Sleeper said. “We are trying to find what is best for our community. We don’t want to be a talk force, we want to get things done.”

In addition, the task force is looking at solutions to create attainable housing in Danville and ways to prevent homelessness.

“It is better to keep people from experiencing homelessness than finding a home after they have had that experience,” Sleeper said.

Isaiah House Director of Discipleship Gary Chidester and Boyle County Emergency Management Agency Director Brian Caldwell delivered a report on the use of warming centers in the county last winter.

“Centenary Church was so kind to open up to us as a warming center,” Chidester said. “We were there for nine days and served 17 guests. Roughly 96 people volunteered. We are incredibly grateful for those folks who were part of that. I think it demonstrates that our community is ready to serve when it comes to homelessness.”

A group of 23 Danville High School students have taken action and started a Volunteering Club, the first student-founded club at Danville Schools. The club has been gathering toiletries to make care packages for the homeless in both Danville and Lexington.

The club was founded by Simon Drake, a senior at DHS, and Elise Arnold, a junior. They hope the club can begin working with other non-profits in the area. Drake has plans to turn his desire to help people into a career.

“We started out wanting to help cats and then we saw the need to help homeless people,” said Drake. “We just want to help any way we can. I like to do the research aspect. I am considering pursuing a degree in psychology.”

Habitat for Humanity is a non-profit organization that provides affordable housing to eligible families. Habitat for Humanity builds homes using entirely volunteer labor and charges only the cost of materials through a zero percent interest loan.

Since the Boyle County branch was formed in 1990, they have built 46 homes spread throughout Danville, Junction City, and Perryville. Habitat for Humanity volunteer Terry Manon explained that the Boyle chapter has the resources to build one home a year but is struggling to find land to build on.

“Our most pressing need right now is for more affordable lots,” Manon said. “For the first time in our history, we have no lots in our inventory for next year’s build. We have one for this year but we don’t have anything for next year’s build.”

He went on to explain that the state has provided funding to help cities address vacant lots and properties with liens on them and how Habitat for Humanity and the city could work together for mutual benefit.

“We would be very interested in helping the city identify privately owned vacant lots and lots with city liens,” Manon said. “We might offer to purchase the lot from the owner and pay any owed liens. We can build an affordable house so you have a family paying property taxes instead of having unpaid taxes accumulate.”

Boyle County Public Health Director Brett Blevins explained the importance of the county and city working together to fight homelessness and ensuring that any funds are used wisely.

“These days, the matter of fact is that if you don’t have outcomes and can’t show what happened to money, you are not going to get grants or people to fund you,” Brett said. “That is why I am excited about what the city, county, and Heart of Kentucky United Way are doing. The health department is jumping in there so we can give people a chance to apply. It is a tough process but a fair one.”

The Boyle County Agency for Substance Abuse Policy Coordinator Kathy Miles explained that recovering addicts are at a higher risk of homelessness and that ASAP is looking into providing transitional housing on their path to recovery.

“People are coming straight into treatment from homelessness or even worse leaving treatment without a place to go,” Miles said. “Most of the sober living programs that we have in the county are full. We are going to look into the organizations that we know are out there to provide that transitive housing. People who are in sober living are people who work and pay taxes.”

Chief Gray followed up by saying that many of the homeless people that Danville Police interact with have substance abuse or other psychological disorders.

“Unfortunately many of the people in these situations we are dealing with have an addiction or psychological issue that brought them to the situation,” Gray said. “That is why dealing with it is such a complicated conversation. Not everybody in that situation chooses to be unhoused but there are a few we encounter who do want to be there. They don’t want to be in a shelter or pay bills, they want to camp out there. That makes it even more complicated.”

Helping Hands is a local non-profit founded in 2011. Helping Hands board member Bruce Nichols explained that although Helping Hands primarily provides aid for food insecurity, they have been increasingly helping unhoused people find shelter.

“We sent a lot of people to the Catholic Action Center up in Lexington,” Nichols said. “Until we get a shelter here we are using Turnersville Christian Church in Lincoln County. They will send a bus and take them there. They can stay as long as they want but it is a small church.”

He went on to explain that Helping Hands receives funding from both the county and the city along with several other services. They operate with no overhead and can utilize 100 percent of the funding they receive towards their mission.

Mayor James Atkins has been passionate about fighting homelessness since he first arrived in Danville as a middle school teacher and learned about the issue from his students.

“I didn’t run for mayor on the issue of homelessness, but I have been dealing with it since 1974,” Atkins said. “I am tickled pink because we have decided to accept the fact that it exists and that we are going to confront it and resolve it.”

Heart of Kentucky United Way Executive Director Stephanie Blevins explained that creating guidelines for the use of community funding will be an ongoing process.

“Keeping up a resource guide doesn’t happen in 15 minutes,” Stephanie said. “It is not a one-and-done process. The wheels are always in motion. It is a role that United Way would be glad to fill. We don’t have the funds for that yet. We can work together on this, we want to be part of the solution. We are committed to that. Whatever we can make happen, the city has our support.”


Cutline: Police Chief Tony Gray speaks about homelessness to the audience. Photo by Lance Gaither