Making a "Big Dent" in Homelessness
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – As Executive Director of Louisville's Coalition for the Homeless, Natalie Harris says the city's effort to combat homelessness has made a "big dent" in the problem. She said a focus on veterans also helped Louisville reduce homelessness. Yet, on any given night as many as 1,600 homeless people still are on the streets or in shelters.
"First we had to address the backlog, because there were so many homeless veterans in the city," she said. "And then we see, on average, about 25 new veterans who become homeless in the city each month; and they [shelters] have maintained housing 25 [veterans] a month."
Harris says over the past two years, the city has eliminated the backlog by housing 1,100 veterans. According to a report from the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Louisville's overall homeless population last year was down more than 26 percent from 2009. Nationwide, the decrease was less than 13 percent.
Harris says the coalition "can't let down," because other segments of the city's homeless population have not changed.
She says there is a great need for emergency shelter for families, which according to the report comprise about a fourth of the city's homeless population. Harris says Louisville has only 12 emergency housing units for families, with the current waiting list at 43.
"And about six of those get housed every month, which means we have people on a waiting list for shelter who will never get it," she explained. "So that's one population we're really concerned about."
And then there's hunger, where, according to the Mayors' report, requests last year for emergency food assistance increased two percent in the nation's cities.
However, in the greater Louisville area, requests were up 15 percent, according to Stan Siegwald, director of policy and planning with the Dare to Care Food Bank. Siegwald says meeting the hunger needs of people is critical to helping them get back on their feet.
"If it can help programs that are helping them address their many varied issues, then we feel like we're being successful and we're doing what this community needs us to do," he said.
Louisville's new focus is on youth homelessness, where, according to Harris, more than 400 young adults, ages 18 to 24, are homeless. She says more than half of them are either pregnant or parenting.
"So it's young kids out on their own, already starting their own families," Harris added. "If we don't do something now we're going to have a whole other generation of people who are homeless."