Louisville’s ‘Safe Outdoor Space’ For The Houseless Opens Tuesday. Take A Look Inside

Rainy weather couldn’t dampen rays of hope at The Hope Village this morning.

The Hope Village, a new safe outdoor space for homeless people, hosted an open house and ribbon cutting this morning in advance of the space’s official opening tomorrow, when residents will begin to move in. It's part of a one-year pilot program from the city meant to help homeless Louisvillians get stable housing.

The space at 212 E. College St. will be able to house 50-60 people on a referral basis in tents (soon to be 48.) Most of the tents, insulated models normally used for ice fishing, are for single people, but a few larger tents can house couples. Some residents will be allowed to bring pets, thanks to a partnership with My Dog Eats First, but only if they have one with them when they arrive. Not all of the new residents will arrive at the same time; organizers have said that one of the issues with getting the Hope Village filled is finding the residents who have been approved to move them in, as homeless people don’t always stay in the same place.

The organization hopes to eventually renovate the lower floor of an adjacent building into apartment units for more permanent housing.

The operators of The Hope Village say that the purpose of the project is partly to build community.

“[The Hope Village] is about the entire city of Louisville, our entire community, coming together to really reimagine how we treat people, how to be a better neighbor,” said the Rev. Stachelle Bussey, executive director of The Hope Village. “What does it look like to really be a compassionate city — but, beyond that, a comfortable city?”

The city has invested roughly $3 million into The Hope Village, with money coming from federal American Rescue Plan COVID relief funds. Metro spent $1.6 million purchasing the property, and $1.5 million will go to the facility’s operating budget. 

The Hope Village was announced in August of last year and was originally supposed to open on March 1, but those familiar with the project said that supply chain issues and weather slowed down the process.

In addition to the tents, the facility also has a modular unit, which will have a laundry room and office space for Hope Village staff, who will be on hand 24/7. There’s also a separate unit with showers, plus nearby bathrooms and handwashing stations. Hope Village residents will also have access to food, gift cards, electrical connections, hygiene supplies and a needle exchange. (That’s not to encourage drug use, Hope Village staff members said, but to make it safer for those who use.)

There’s also a concrete shelter with tables, which “care manager” Sara Turney told LEO will function in part as a dining area. (Turney, who has experienced homelessness herself, works in a role that is analogous to that of a case manager in a social work context.)

She also plans to put in a game library and art supplies, and the space will be used almost like a living room, with movie nights and yoga classes, amongst other things. (During the open house, there was a table inside the shelter where guests could fill out congratulations cards for the new residents.) The Hope Village is working with a group called Breonna’s Roots to install raised beds for residents to grow vegetables.

The Hope Village’s partners include the Franciscan Kitchen, Wellspring, Coalition for the Homeless, and St. John Center.

One of their partners is NuLease Medical Solutions, which provides medical services through a mobile trailer that travels to different homeless camps and shelters in the city. Right now, they’re scheduled to visit The Hope Village every Tuesday.

Symone Hartman, who works with NuLease, told LEO that a service like that is beneficial to the residents because many homeless people have had bad experiences in the medical system — disrespectful doctors, for instance, or people who’ve stared at them in a waiting room. Beyond that, some homeless people can’t read or write, which makes it impossible to fill out insurance forms and intake paperwork on their own. NuLease helps with those; at their Okolona location, they also provide psychiatric counseling, rides to hospitals, and medication pickup, amongst other services. Their mobile unit can also test for COVID-19, STIs, and HIV.

Director of Operations Angel L. Todd told reporters, “I like stories, and I like to hear people, and I want to talk to people. My hope is that, with bringing folks in here, we get to reintroduce each other to each other.” 

“A lot of times, there's a lot of stigma about homelessness and what that looks like, and this will be an opportunity to say, ‘No, the guy that you saw sitting in front of your business isn't just ‘a homeless guy,’ he's Mr. Tim, and Mr. Tim has a culinary degree, and Mr. Tim worked in a five-star restaurant, and Mr. Tim did these things, and this is what happened in his life to put him here,’” she said. “How do we rebuild him? How do we help him get back to where he was, or wherever he wants to go past that?”

“My hope is that we just are building a community, because everyone deserves it,” Todd said.

Hartman told LEO that residents often gravitate to “Tiny” Herron, an advocate for the homeless (who asked that LEO use her nickname) and ask for her by name — indeed, only a few minutes after Hartman said this, a woman walked by NuLease’s trailer and asked if Tiny was around.

Herron told LEO, “Everything we do is person-centered. It's not what we want to do, it's what they [residents] want to do.” Care managers like her will help residents work toward their own goals — finding a job, perhaps, or moving into their own housing outside of The Hope Village.

Herron has seen another one-year pilot for homeless people turn into a “beautiful, successful program,” she told LEO, and she’s optimistic about what the Hope Village will achieve going forward.

“We're gonna be here much longer than a year, or as long as the city needs us,” she said. “I wish they didn't need us, but I'm excited that this is something that the city is agreeing to even look into and to be a part of.”

Photos by Carolyn Brown • [email protected] • @cebrownphoto https://www.instagram.com/cebrownphoto/
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