Louisville Metro Cleared A Large Homeless Camp Today. Here’s Where They Say Its Residents Went.

Oct 6, 2021 at 6:56 pm
People lining up outside the St. John Center for Homeless Men in January of 2021  |  Photo by Kathryn Harrington
People lining up outside the St. John Center for Homeless Men in January of 2021 | Photo by Kathryn Harrington

Louisville Metro cleared about 40 tents and other structures in a downtown encampment in a four and a half hour period on Wednesday morning. 

Of the people who were displaced, 17 accepted shelter at the low-barrier Wayside Christian Mission shelter and four went to live at The Healing Place, according to Louisville’s Homeless Communications Coordinator Julia Dake. But, Louisville outreach organizer Donny Greene with Feed Louisville said that many of the residents of the encampment have scattered across the city since the 21-day notice announcing the clearing was first posted in September — making it more difficult for groups like his to serve them. 

“It didn't actually solve the problem; it actually exacerbated the problem,” he said.

The city says it cleared the six to eight block radius near Wayside Christian Mission because it had been deemed a health and safety risk for both people living in the camps and those in the surrounding community. The assessment was conducted per a memorandum of understanding between the city and the state government, the latter of which owns the property that was cleared. 

The city posted its 21-day notice on Sept. 14, notifying residents of the upcoming clearing. At the same time, the city announced that it had formed more partnerships with local organizations to help connect the area’s residents with services. This all came as the city began work on setting up a government-sanctioned camp called a Safe Outdoor Space in Old Louisville. But, that location won’t be open until at least mid November.

At the time of the 21-day notice posting, Dake says there were 69 tents and other structures in the area. Greene estimated that there were 100-150 people living in the area. 

Since the 21-day notice was first posted, outreach groups have been working with residents in the area, trying to move them somewhere else, according to Dake. As of this morning, there were no more than 40 people in the area, she said. But, the city did not keep tabs on where the rest have gone. Outreach groups were the ones tasked today with transporting residents to other locations. There were 11 outreach groups working the site before the city started clearing the camp at 8 a.m.. Greene’s group, Feed Louisville, had been out the day before from 1 p.m. until 4 a.m. today. 

Dake said the clearing was “successful,” but Greene says it shouldn’t have happened without the city having housing — not shelters — available for the people living in the encampment. 

“I mean, if you're going to forcefully force people out of their homes, which is what this is, OK, or their living situation, then your answer should be by housing them, not by further criminalizing them and moving and pushing them somewhere else where they now have to reestablish contact with people in order to get resources,” he said. “You basically made a desperate situation more desperate by doing this.”

When asked what the city did for residents of the camp who want to live in affordable housing instead of on the streets or in the shelter, Dake told LEO that outreach workers have been trying to connect residents with permanent housing but that there are barriers.

“It’s important to note that Louisville's down about 31,000 affordable housing units, and about $4.2 billion to pay for those units,” she said.

In preparation for the clearing, Wayside Christian Mission scrubbed its list of people who are banned from the shelter, taking everyone off except sex offenders, who are not allowed to stay there, according to Dake. The city also partnered with The Healing Place to start a pilot program with 12 beds for men and women, a case manager and four peer support workers. The city partnered with Seven Counties Services, as well, to provide two peer supports who respond within an hour to connect clients with services and to conduct mental health and substance abuse assessments. Louisville Metro expanded its existing partnership with Wellspring to provide additional peer support and outreach for mental health support. And, Wayside also expanded its shelter bed capacity.

As LEO spoke to Greene — almost four hours since the city had cleared the camp — the outreach worker said he was watching as a man set up a spot on Preston Street, one of the areas that had been cleared. 

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