City, community leaders address issue of homelessness

Last Sunday city and community leaders met at Berea City Hall to suggest ways to tackle what many believe is a growing problem in Berea: homelessness.

The discussion was moderated by Emily LaDouceur, a Berea City Council candidate and organizer of the group Coalition to End Homelessness – Berea. Others in attendance included Berea Mayor Steven Connelly, mayoral candidate Charles Arnold, Berea city councilman and mayoral candidate Bruce Fraley, and Berea City Council candidate Vincent Gwin.

Highlights of the discussion included:

LaDouceur noted the First Christian Church reported serving eight homeless or home insecure individuals (people without a stable living arrangement) last week, and that an informal poll of churches that serve the disadvantaged reveals they assist approximately 1-2 people per week.

Bruce Fraley suggested there may be between 40 and 100 homeless people in Berea. Fraley said one of the most important first steps to address the problem would be to get an accurate count of how many homeless people are in Berea. Fraley said he and Connelly have discussed ways to make that happen, including integrating that task into efforts to complete the upcoming census.

When someone asked how much money the city would commit to group’s efforts, Mayor Connelly stated the model that has worked well in the past on other issues is one in which local advocacy groups present a detailed plan or the opportunity for supporting an existing program. That option would be subject to the review and approval of the Berea City Council. As an example, Connelly said while the city wouldn’t run a bus service, it does contract with Kentucky River Foothills to provide that service at a much cheaper cost.

Representatives of the Berea Faith Community Outreach (BFCO) suggested the city could subscribe to Charity Tracker, a software program the City of Richmond currently uses that allows tracking of who receives assistance and where they receive it from. Entities that might use that software include BFCO, the Frank Gailey Transient and Emergency Relief Fund, Bereans United for Utility and Rent Relief (BUURR), Berea Food Bank, God’s Outreach, and other organizations.
The question of providing services such as shelter and showers to homeless clients was addressed, but no available spaces were identified. Charles Arnold expressed hope that by the end of the year, at least a few people could be housed in Berea. On a separate note, LaDouceur suggested to Berea College President Lyle Roelofs that Seabury Center could be used as a showering facility for homeless clients during off-peak hours.

Reid Connelly questioned what kind of help homeless advocacy organizations in other cities were receiving from other government entities, as well as the help they were receiving from public/private partnerships. Reid said that is important in considering whether those models could be replicated in Berea. He suggested more research in that area.

Roelof’s noted that Martina Laforce is in discussion with the college’s food provider, Sodexho, to try to formulate a food recovery program that would presumably save recoverable food that would otherwise be wasted.

When asked if the city would set aside storage space for the homelessness project, Connelly suggested the appropriate first step would be to identify potential partners and funding before seeking specific commitments for space or resources.

Barbara Katzenapple Anspach discussed a program called Room at the Inn, in which local churches provide temporary lodging space, meals and showers for homeless people. Five cities in Kentucky participate in the program. Bardstown, for example, has 12 churches that participate, and some suggested they would contact their churches in Berea to gauge their interest in signing up for Room at the Inn.

The coalition is moving forward with peripheral projects, such as setting up a committee for training to count the homeless, as well as the compilation of a list of items available to local relief organizations.

The long-term goal of some participants at Sunday’s meeting is to establish a homeless shelter in Berea.

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