Women’s Shelter Director Josie Kirker underestimated the need for emergency shelter this year.
When the shelter is full and women still need somewhere to go, Kirker tries to pay for a hotel room for a night. She reserved $2,900 in this year’s budget for overflow emergency shelter.
But the shelter has been full for months. So far this year, Kirker has spent $4,985 for overflow housing.
“Just the need this year, for some reason, seems to be higher and higher,” she said.
There are 30 beds available for homeless adults in Franklin County. Some are specifically designated for transitional housing, while others are meant for emergency shelter.
Emergency shelter is defined as 30 days or less, while transitional housing can vary in length of time and is meant to help people with long-term housing needs.
Only 14 of those beds are specifically for emergency shelter, and this has caused the few shelters available to be overloaded with requests in recent months. The shelters are trying to accommodate everyone who needs help, but limited space and funding makes it difficult.
Currently, there are four housing options for homeless people in Franklin County:
>Simon House for women with children or pregnant women
>Women’s Shelter for women with or without children
>Access Soup Kitchen and Men’s Shelter for men ages 18 and older and
>The safe house from the Franklin County Council on Family Abuse for domestic violence victims.
Simon House and the safe house are only for transitional housing, and the Women’s Shelter fluctuates on how many of its beds are for emergency and how many are for transitional housing.
There is no family housing option.
Among the four shelters, there are 30 beds for adults, but the Women’s Shelter has an additional three beds for children, and the men’s shelter can make room for up to eight more.
Volunteers of America closed its Frankfort transitional living program in July, which lost another four units that were meant for women ages 16 to 21 who were pregnant or had children.
There are other housing options in nearby counties and cities, but for many, getting one of the 30 beds in Frankfort is the only option.
With less than four months left in the year, the Women’s Shelter has already surpassed the number of women it helped in 2011.
Last year, the emergency shelter served 148 women and kids. So far this year, it has housed 154.
The shelter also provides a transitional living program, which has seen an increase, as well. In 2011, 37 women and children were involved with the program. The number this year is 53.
For the transitional housing program, women can stay at the shelter for up to one year.
The last time the Women’s Shelter had empty beds was in January.
Simon House Executive Director Pamela McCalla said its transitional living program hasn’t had a vacancy for longer than two weeks for about two years. And usually those two weeks are used for cleaning.
McCalla said the Simon House is trying to expand to provide some beds for emergency shelter, but the funding isn’t there yet.
Some months, the shelter receives as many as 43 phone calls about emergency housing. She said on average, it’s a phone call per day with someone seeking shelter. She now has five on her waiting list to live in the house.
Women can stay at the Simon House for up to 24 months. During their stay, they look for jobs and try to find permanent housing.
Access Executive Director Andrew Baker said the number of men the shelter houses fluctuates throughout the month, but on average, it’s 10 to 12 men every night for the 12 beds available. The highest has been 15.
Men can stay there for up to 30 days, with some exceptions, like if they need a few more days to get a paycheck or move into an apartment. Baker said he doesn’t count winter days when the temperature is below freezing.
As of Aug. 23, 149 men stayed at the shelter this year. About 30 were repeats.
No jobs, no housing
While the leaders of these shelters will admit there are drug users and people who are abusing the system, they say a big reason for the problem is the lack of jobs or only low-paying jobs available.
According to a report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a family in Franklin County must earn $24,360 annually in order to afford a modest rental home. The average wage in Kentucky for a renter is $10.76 per hour, or $22,380 annually for 40 hours per week for 52 weeks.
That rate is still higher than minimum wage in Kentucky, which is $7.25 per hour, or $15,080 annually for a full-time job.
Baker said most of the men at the shelter could only find minimum wage jobs, meaning they have to get multiple jobs to afford rent.
To pay rent on minimum wage, someone would have to work 65 hours per week for 52 weeks per year, according to the report.
“Minimum wage is not a living wage,” Baker said. “You can’t afford to pay rent.”
McCalla also said she believes the lack of jobs and high cost of housing could be a reason for the increasing number of homeless people.
“Lately they’ve been staying longer because the unemployment situation is so bad,” she said. “They’re having a hard time finding jobs.”
As of June 30, about 21 percent of people in Kentucky are living below the poverty level. In Franklin County, 16 percent are below the poverty level and 7 percent are unemployed.
The unemployment rate has decreased though since December 2011 when it was 7.2 percent. In June 2011, it was 8.1 percent.
Kirker said she’s not sure why there’s an increase in need, but losing the four beds from the Volunteers of America shelter has been part of it.
“I don’t think there is an easy answer,” Kirker said. “When you look at why people are homeless, it’s such a complicated thing.”
More ways to help
To adjust to the increase in demand for places to sleep, the shelters are trying to expand or find other ways to provide short-term housing.
In addition to paying for hotel rooms, Kirker says she also tries to find shelters in nearby counties with open beds.
She said lately that has been difficult too. For one woman, she called about 12 places and all were full.
“It was just one call after another and everyone was full,” Kirker said. “It’s happening statewide.”
Kirker said the Women’s Shelter also has an agreement for a furnished apartment with a local landlord and pays rent and lodging when necessary. This year, that’s been for 49 nights of shelter in the furnished apartment.
Baker said the men’s shelter has never turned anyone away, making room when necessary.
The Council on Family Abuse also provides hotel rooms for women who need an immediate place to stay.
Volunteer coordinator Keeley Howard said while the council can only assist domestic violence victims, it receives additional phone calls about homelessness.
In the past three months, she said the number of those calls has doubled.
“Unfortunately, we’re just not equipped to deal with homelessness,” Howard said.
For long-term needs, the agency tries to place people in the safe house for its transitional living program or helps them find shelter in a nearby county.
To fix the problem, Kirker said Franklin County’s homeless need more opportunities for emergency shelter. She said that would save her organization money on hotel rooms.
Baker also said more shelter would be helpful, specifically one for families.
While bigger cities, like Lexington or Louisville, usually have a co-ed housing unit, Frankfort remains without one. If a family lost its home, the mother and child would go to Simon House or Women’s Shelter, assuming there’s room, and the father would go to the men’s shelter.
“Split up or leave the county,” Baker said.