Shell expresses interest in dealing with homelessness; Homeless and Housing Coalition offers solutions

05/01/2017 02:09 PM

One major lawmaker in the House of Representatives says it’s his obligation and in Kentucky’s best interest for the General Assembly to look into homelessness.

House Majority Floor Leader Jonathan Shell told Spectrum News that he has been looking into the issue in recent weeks.

“It’s no longer an issue for the churches or really communities that are looking at it — the police are dealing with it the most, and there’s a cost associated with it,” Shell said about homelessness in Kentucky. “These are people that are mentally dependent. They’re people that have bad luck in their life — drug addicts, different things — some of the most vulnerable people in our society and I think we have an obligation to look at how we can help with those things.”

Shell said he was unsure exactly how the state should move forward in addressing the problem. However, he said his faith compels him to pay attention to what’s happening to some of the most vulnerable in our society.

“My personal life as a Christian I look at it as something of an obligation personally just to kind of look at the issues, but as a state there are a lot of issues that come along with that,” he said referencing budgetary issues.

Right now, Shell said he’s hoping to learn more about the scope of the problem.

Adrienne Bush the executive director with the Homeless & Housing Coalition of Kentucky said there are multiple areas lawmakers can pursue in addressing homelessness.

The state has around 4,000 people who are homeless according to the Point-in-Time (PIT) count data collected by Housing and Urban Development, Bush said.

Over the past few years, Bush said around half of the homeless population are in Jefferson and Fayette County. The other half of the homeless population is spread around the state.

In agreeing with Shell, Bush said the homeless problem is beyond what individual communities can do alone. An avenue that Bush suggested to address the crisis is to bring stakeholder across the spectrum together to find a route to housing.

“If you start with housing as the goal — you bring in corrections, justice, the courts, the mental health — all of those different agencies at the state level to try to create policies which try to get to the solution of homelessness — which is housing,” she said.

Bush said there is a vast need for affordable housing in Kentucky.

“We know from out-of-reach reports that are done by the national low income housing coalition that there is no county in the state where housing is necessarily affordable for people who are at 80 percent or below of the area median income,” Bush said. “One of the things we need to do as a commonwealth is figure out, how do we create more housing for all of our people.”

The Commonwealth relies solely on federal government for nearly all of the state’s housing assistance. There are around $100,000 in general funds for the homelessness prevention project annually, Bush said.

“Right now, we are reliant on the federal government for anything we want to do, like tax credit projects — any sort of public funding of emergency shelters, any sort of supportive housing — we have to rely on the federal government,” Bush said.

With fear over looming budget cuts, Bush said she would encourage the General Assembly to look at funding structures in the broader discussion on tax reform.

Watch the full interview for Bush’s take on what is happening in Fayette Co. as city officials have asked for residents not to donate to panhandlers.


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