It’s no big surprise that the ACCESS Soup Kitchen and Men’s Shelter has had to cope with shaky finances. Sheltering the homeless and feeding the hungry cost money, and a struggling economy continues to exasperate fundraisers.
The good news is that the people of Frankfort responded, just as they did in 1984 when reports of a homeless man freezing to death under the Capital Avenue bridge motivated humanitarians to open the shelter on Second Street. Andrew Baker, current executive director, told State Journal reporter Kevin Wheatley funds ran so low last year that ACCESS considered temporary shutdowns. But word got out and Frankfort again showed its generosity. Checks came in and volunteers stepped up. First lady Jane Beshear donated tulip bulbs from the Capitol grounds that were sold to raise $1,000. County Magistrate Jill Robinson, founder of the local women’s shelter, spoke up on behalf of homeless men.
This won’t be the last time the residents of Frankfort and Franklin County – and other communities – are called on to search their souls and dig deeper. The National Alliance to End Homelessness, in its 2012 annual report, said homelessness nationwide actually fell 1 percent between 2009 and 2011, due in part to a $1.5 billion federal program to keep people sheltered during hard times. But the economy continues to flounder, the national debt and deficit are growing and the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program is scheduled to expire this fall. “Homelessness is a lagging indicator,” according to the report, “and the effects of the poor economy on the problem are escalating and are expected to continue to do so over the next few years.”
The alliance says most homeless people find compassion in emergency centers like the local one but nearly four in 10 fend for themselves, sleeping on the streets or in cars, abandoned buildings and other locations. Frankfort has seen what tragedy can occur when the destitute have to rely on makeshift refuge. We must not go back there.
High housing costs, unemployment and foreclosures – key economic factors driving homelessness – all worsened from 2009 to 2010, according to the NAEH report. Growing numbers spend more than half their income on rent while the population of unemployed people has risen 4 percent and one of every 45 housing units was in foreclosure in 2010.
But there’s more to homelessness than losing your job and falling behind on mortgage payments. Many end up on the streets due to mental illness, unable to help themselves and increasingly driven to seek aid from others at a time when public-assistance budgets are strained.
Drug and alcohol abuse often contributes to the problem and has frustrated ACCESS efforts to enlist some of its clients in operating the shelter. Jim Sturm, chairman of the board, said the previous practice of choosing certain residents as night supervisors at a stipend of $40 plus room and board also ran into trouble when state regulators ordered payment of minimum wages – which doubled the cost and ran up a back pay obligation. Still, Baker says he’s committed to employing qualified residents, in hopes of putting them on the road to independence.
“Rather than just feeding people and giving them a place to sleep, we want to give them some permanent direction in their lives and help them with their life skills,” Sturm agreed.
The rescue mission is vastly more complicated than when it began, but abandonment is not an option.