Louisville Magazine

JAN 2019

Louisville Magazine is Louisville's city magazine, covering Louisville people, lifestyles, politics, sports, restaurants, entertainment and homes. Includes a monthly calendar of events.

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54 LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 1.19 the waitlist for a spot in a family shelter, and that list had 70 other families on it. ey huddled outside the orntons at Broadway and First Street. e piercing cold was still a new sensation, how it stings bare skin and drains feeling from finger- tips. A passerby spotted them, offered them a room for the night. But then what? As Samantha and her family walked around Louisville, she marveled at the row of men and women cocooned in sleeping bags and blankets beneath the overpass on Jefferson Street. "I never, never seen so many homeless people," she says. at's the crowd that's easy to spot — adults un- able (either due to lack of space or repeat rules violations) or unwilling to go into shelter. Families, they're better at hiding, maybe in hospital lobbies or wedged into their cars for warmth. Mothers are resourceful, doing anything to keep their families together, haunted by the idea of Child Protective Services elbowing in if discovered. e Coalition for the Homeless in Louisville reported dips in homelessness from 2013 to 2016, but in 2017 the total number of homeless single men, single women and adults with kids slightly increased from 6,373 to 6,695. Home- lessness, though, is hard to tally. Point-in- time counts, which take place on one des- ignated night, capture those who happen to be in a shelter or are discovered in camps. e U.S. Department of Hous- ing and Urban Development requires any city that receives HUD funding to track folks who seek emergency shelter or report themselves as homeless, but some will always remain unaccounted for, preferring anonymity. In Louisville, over the course of a year, there can be anywhere from 150 to 300- plus families either in shelters or living in cars — or, sometimes, on the streets. Factor in families that are without a home but lodged on the couches of relatives or in motels, and the number soars. Jefferson County Public Schools reported close to 4,600 children during the 2017-2018 school year who didn't have a permanent address to call home. Living on the streets is a last resort. Alone, it's difficult. With children, it's terrifying. Samantha worries that Junior, a spark of energy, will bolt into traffic. en there was that November day when two women were following her family around. "I'd never seen them," Samantha says. "I don't know if they were out to rob us or kidnap our kids, but I wasn't feeling it." A few days after anksgiv- ing, Samantha marched into the Coalition for the Homeless office in Old Louisville and exploded, demanding time with Na- talie Harris, the Coalition's executive director. Samantha didn't get a meeting with Harris. She did wind up in the small office of Erin Klein and Tonia Nolden. e two women pieced together a plan, Klein collecting money from a few donors and working out a deal with Hotel Louis- ville downtown to house the family for a month for $800, a good rate considering a week at Hotel Louisville can cost about $400. (Wayside Christian Mission, a homeless shelter and service provider, also operates Hotel Louisville.) is month- long stay would buy time, a few weeks to gather critical things the family lacked, like birth certificates and IDs. Hopefully a shelter spot would soon free up. Before Klein and Nolden started their "preven- tion and diversion" program for families this past July, Samantha would've left the Coalition's office with not much more than reassurance that she was still on the waitlist. Be patient, charge your phone. We'll call you when there's an opening. It may be weeks or months. Klein and Nolden's office has peachy- pink walls, a wide gray filing cabinet and, lately, an oil diffuser misting out a lavender scent, or something just as sooth- ing. eir desks sit side by side, facing a wall, with one long table in the middle positioned vertically, creating a "T" in the snug, windowless space. e stem of that "T" is where they do most of their work, swiveling their chairs to face each other, as if about to play a game of chess, which they sort of do. It's all strategizing, really. How do we get this landlord to delay evic- tion? Can we get ministries to cover rent? Phone conversations mostly take place on speakerphone, the two of them huddled as they assess a client's needs or negotiate with landlords or homeless-service provid- ers, like shelters. "If you talk to her, you talk to me," Nolden says. "We're attached at the hip." Families, particularly single mothers, of- ten walk into their office, sitting at the end of the "T" in a plastic chair. In late August, a tall, striking 21-year-old, a native of Liberia, came into the office in a state of panic, tears falling. Nolden shut the door. e single mother of a precocious three- year-old boy had already fled domestic violence in New York. Now she was saying that the "friends" she was doubled up with in Louisville were pushing her toward sex work. e woman had that morning stuffed all her belongings into plastic trash bags, brought them to the Coalition's offic- es and debated tossing them in a dumpster at the side of the building. If she was going to be homeless, better to lighten her load. "It was scary for me," the woman, who goes by "China," would later reflect. "I didn't see a future. I just saw blank." Klein and Nolden managed to get China and her son into the Volunteers of America family shelter that day. She stayed there about three months, earning her high school diploma and getting work at a beauty supply store, all the while keeping in touch with Klein and Nolden, even texting a photo of herself in a royal-blue cap and gown the day she clutched her diploma for the first time. She's now living in her own apartment with the help of a housing voucher that will cover a portion of her rent for about a year. "ey're the best thing that happened to me," China said one day in the fall. Since its July inception, the prevention and diversion program has assisted 150 families, and 52 were still active cases as of mid-December. In about 30 instances, Klein and Nolden helped prevent an eviction. Twenty-five families wound up in an emergency shelter. Other arrangements were nailed down for most of the others. Klein and Nolden learn of needy families through JCPS and homeless-service providers, as well as the homeless shelter reservation line manned by Coalition staff and interns. "I also get a lot of calls from In Louisville, over the course of a year, there can be anywhere from 150 to 300- plus families either in shelters or living in cars — or, sometimes, on the streets.

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