Ridding the City of Homelessness

By Steve Kaufman

Every year, The Louisville Coalition of the Homeless takes a count of the people sleeping on the streets. Its goal is not to find anyone.

This week, about 300 volunteers met at 4 a.m. on a mid-winter downtown street corner and fanned out across the city.

It was the annual City Homeless Street Count, the effort by the Louisville Coalition of the Homeless to tally the number of people sleeping on the streets.

The best possible return on all this effort is “zero” – nobody found huddled in doorways or under highway viaducts, or reported sleeping in shelters.

But the Coalition, whose stated mission is “to prevent and end homelessness in Louisville,” knows that “zero” is still a work-in-progress. The ideal is to return a head count that’s lower than the 156 reported a year ago. That’s the goal – always lower, year after year after year, until the problem is at last eliminated.

However, the point of the Street Count is not merely to keep score. It’s also to leverage federal funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and to determine how to invest the resources it gets. The Coalition coordinates the activities of a number of agencies and organizations – like Wellspring, Home of the Innocents, The Center for Women and Families and other local providers listed on its website, LouisvilleHomeless.org.

“Our role is to see the big picture,” said Melissa Kratzer, the Coalition’s director of development, “what all the organizations in Louisville need to help fill the gaps in services and to help them work together more efficiently.”

Not surprisingly, filling those needs comes down to money. Kratzer said the Coalition will be getting $9.5 million from HUD this year, to be spread among the various organizations. Otherwise, the Coalition, which is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, lives on local grants and private donations. “We raise about $300,000 to $400,000 a year in donations,” Kratzer said.

The entire scope of homelessness is a daunting challenge. To try chipping away at it, the Coalition has focused on particular segments of that community.

“A few years ago,” said Kratzer, “we focused on housing chronically homeless people – those most likely to die on our streets. Since 2011, we have reduced chronic homelessness by 50 percent.”

A subsequent focus was on veterans. In 2015, the Coalition created the Rx: Veterans program to deal with what Kratzer said were the 25 veterans who become newly homeless every month. On Veterans Day 2016, Mayor Fischer was informed by the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness that Louisville had reached “functional zero” for veteran homelessness.

The current focus is on youth homelessness – the more than 800 young people under 24 who experience homelessness every year. The Host Homes Program to end youth homelessness by 2020 involves finding families to house young persons for one to three months while they’re working with a case manager on a permanent housing solution.

“We want them to be able to stay with a stable family and not worry about staying warm each night, so they can focus on long-term goals like going to college or getting a job,” says Kratzer, “rather than sleeping in a shelter or on the street, or engaging in survival sex.”

They deserve a better chance at life. VT

Coalition of the Homeless