Louisville's Safe Outdoor Space Is The First Step Toward Going Big On Solving Homelessness

Feb 2, 2022 at 2:42 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

For far too long, homelessness in Louisville has been a crisis, with an uneven government response — and, as a result, underfunded nonprofits — struggling to adequately address a serious and incredibly complex problem.

Through the years, several pivotal nonprofits, too many to name, have been on the ground, working diligently to do everything possible. The government has provided some ideas, sprinkles of empathy and limited money to the problem, but it has also been incredibly volatile, coldly bulldozing numerous homeless camps, especially near tourist districts. Of course, government, like most things, isn’t a monolith, and there are people in office with dramatically varying intentions — some that truly care, some that are completely indifferent — which also makes galvanizing a big-splash, unified response very difficult, especially when budget money is tight. 

But, with the influx of American Rescue Plan funds, money isn’t that tight this year — and that big splash is happening, with a lot riding on it.

The Hope Village — a government-funded safe outdoor space for homeless people that will house 40-50 people in tents — is scheduled to open before March 1. It will be run by the nonprofit The Hope Buss, and, other than shelter, Hope Village will provide food and resources to individuals in need at its location at 212 E. College St. in Old Louisville. 

But, the city’s $3 million investment in the safe outdoor space, which aims to meet people where they are, and offer an alternative to indoor shelters, is only the beginning of a planned city response to homelessness. Not only is the safe outdoor space important because it could help change people’s lives immediately, but it’s also the first piece of a multi-pronged solution — it could be a gleaming example about how significant investment, innovative solutions and a multi-year plan are the way forward.

In an end-of-the-year interview with Mayor Greg Fischer, he and I spoke about the city’s longterm response to homelessness in the city. 

“So, safe outdoor space is the first, and then transitional housing is the second and then permanent supportive housing and then more investment in affordable housing,” Fischer said. “So, that’s a big story from this past year. The significant amount of money that we’re able to dedicate to that area.”

This is the opportunity the city has been looking for. Instead of the standard  do-what-we-can, sweep-the-rest-under-the-rug, rinse-and-repeat cycle, the city government has an incredible opportunity to make a real difference instead of what’s been a largely stagnant reaction. 

The safe outdoor space has already run into some issues. The mayor told me that closing while purchasing the property was difficult and there were some supply chain issues that resulted in delays on items like tents. He said that pushed back the original goal for an opening date by six to eight weeks. 

Those things are likely out of everyone’s control. But, now, as the The Hope Village eyes that March 1 goal, it’s important that this becomes smooth and efficient, helping people as soon as possible, and establishing a program we can be proud of as a city.

If these initiatives work, and the money is followed by success, Louisville could be viewed as a leader in the nation. If they crumble, a lot of people are going to be left in the cold.    

Anything the city — and we as individuals — can do to help The Hope Buss and The Hope Village, we should.

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