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.

Issue link: https://loumag.epubxp.com/i/1066550

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Page 61 of 92

LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 1.19 59 In late June, Klein found the pre- vention and diversion program's first family. ey were living under Joe's Crab Shack on the waterfront. Timothy Lee, Mi- chelle Gray and her teenage son would lay blankets in a well-hidden corner under the restaurant that's elevated by concrete pillars. Employees knew they were there, occasion- ally bringing them packages of food. Geese kept a respectful distance. e fish smell became a tolerated companion. But the Ohio River, after a downpour, crept a little too close, invading their space. Every morning the threesome would pack their belongings into backpacks and seek day-labor jobs. Gray's son usually made it to school but sometimes didn't. "It was hard on him," Lee says. And on this went for two months. Lee and Gray, who are both 35, say they ended up homeless after living in a poorly insulated home last winter. eir LG&E bill ballooned and soon they say they owed the utility company thousands of dollars. ey were evicted and hopped around, staying in a boarding house for a bit. ey considered Wayside, but couples are separated there and Lee and Gray are close, affectionate. ey wanted to trudge through this together. So they made their way to beneath Joe's Crab Shack. "e hardest part was, you know, as a man," Lee says, trailing off. He was scared police might find them or, worse, that somebody might try to hurt them. "I've got my woman and I couldn't sleep. I may doze off, but my mind is trying to be alert." Klein learned about the family after they had come into the Coalition's office seeking TARC tickets. In the days following, she searched for shelter space, advocated on their behalf. She checked in with Lee and Gray almost every day. Within a week, she had gotten them into Volunteers of Amer- ica. While there, the couple worked with a VOA case manager and secured work in the janitorial field. By October, they moved into their own place in west Louisville with the help of a rapid re-housing voucher. "is past anksgiving my mama came over and it was beautiful," Lee says. "Normally I would go to my mother's house but this year she came to my house. We made yams and roast. My mama came to my house. Power- ful." Lee and Gray are so grateful to Klein that they'll occasionally walk 22 blocks from their home to the Coalition's office just to say hello. "I love this beautiful girl," Lee says one day, hugging Klein around the neck. On a 35-degree morning in Decem- ber, Samantha bobs up and down without a winter coat at a bus stop across from Hotel Louisville, trying to stay warm. A black University of Louisville fleece hangs loose on her small frame, almost completely masking her swollen belly. Samantha is due with her fourth child this spring. e family is on their way to the Family Health Centers in the Portland neighborhood. Timothy, who is tall with an easy- going grin, bares the chill in just a black hoodie. At their hips, Junior and Amare wear winter coats. e boys look almost identical, with faces so precious that strangers gasp in delight when in their orbit. Perhaps Junior knows it because he's often snatching his mother's phone to take photos of himself. Amare's more of an observer, his deep brown eyes intensely watching the world from his belt- ed place in a pink-and-black stroller. It's not surprising that when the family was on the streets, a stranger took to them. By the time Klein connected with Samantha at the Coalition's office at the end of Novem- ber, a woman had helped pay for a night in a hotel and then pledged an additional $300 toward the family's month-long Hotel Louisville stay. Since then, Klein has become a steady presence in their life. When Junior sees her, he stretches his arms up in a V, ges- turing for a hug. Klein swoops in, happy to oblige. "I think (Klein and Nolden) are probably making families feel more connected, giving a level of hope," says Tamara Reif, associate vice president of program services with Volunteers for America. As December wears on, though, Samantha feels a little flat, like this detour into homelessness will forever linger. "I'm ready to get out of this motel," she says softly one afternoon. All four to a room, it's just so cramped. She's not entirely excited about a shelter either. A home of their own, that's the finish line. ey've become regulars at soup kitch- ens and the public library. Samantha will slide a gold-and-red knit cap on Junior's head, then dig out a fuzzy hat for herself. It's light brown and cream with two long braids down the side, giving the Florida native a Nordic look. "We came here with no hats. Now, everybody gives us one," Samantha says with a laugh. ey're not used to the cold yet. But at least they're better prepared for it. e future of the prevention and diversion program relies heavily on HUD. If the agency decides to focus funds on family homelessness — like it has in the past with chronic, youth and veteran homelessness — the program will likely continue past the summer, maybe even expand. Giselle Danger-Mercaderes, who works with homeless students in JCPS, says Klein and Nolden have implemented a safety net for homeless families — at least the beginnings of one. "ey're answering emails and texts at 10 p.m.," she says. "We need a couple more Erin and Tonias." One afternoon, Klein comes to visit Samantha's family. Junior gets his hug and Klein cheers Samantha's growing belly. "You're getting so big!" she says. But Samantha's preoccupied. It's the middle of December and the family only has until Dec. 30 at Hotel Louisville. She and Timothy are still waiting on their birth certificates, Social Security cards and IDs. Once that happens, Timothy, who has 15 years experience as a cook, will start putting in applications for work. Because Samantha is pregnant and they have two other children here in Louisville, they should be high priority on the shelter waitlist. But for now, all space is taken. "How's the waitlist looking?" Samantha asks Klein. "Promising?" "Well, I don't ever make promises, but there's a lot of different options we're exploring," Klein says. Timothy, who is strapping a tired Am- are into a stroller, looks up. "Something will come through," he states, calmly, confidently. "Yes," Klein says, with a reassuring nod and smile, "something will." Klein found the program's first family. They were living under Joe's Crab Shack.

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