Last updated: July 18. 2013 11:04PM - 144 Views
Cris Ritchie

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HAZARD – About 30 people, ranging from officials with local government to local churches, met at City Hall in Hazard Tuesday to begin the process of finding a solution to get the Corner Haven homeless shelter back on its feet.

It was in May that administrators with Community Ministries, the nonprofit organization in Hazard that operates the shelter, were forced to halt services during the daytime hours due to a lack of adequate funding. At present, the shelter only offers emergency housing from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. each day. And as the winter months quickly approach, officials in Hazard say help is needed now to get the shelter back up and running 24 hours a day.

The most pressing issue for Hazard Mayor Nan Gorman is that the people utilizing the homeless shelter, about 80 percent of which are typically from Perry County, need somewhere to go when the temperatures begin to drop in the next few weeks.

“We have to find shelter,” Gorman said during Tuesday’s meeting. “That’s the main thing, because winter’s coming.”

Community Ministries director Adrienne Bush said she is awaiting to see the results of a funding application from the state, but she estimates that Corner Haven needs about $50,000 above and beyond funding already secured to fully staff the shelter during the winter months.

“Our biggest cost is personnel to keep it open,” Bush said, but added that the cost of feeding people who use the homeless shelter is a major cost as well.

Several ideas were floated during this week’s meeting, including one from state Sen. Brandon Smith that he and state Rep. Fitz Steele, who also attended the meeting, could work to develop a reimbursement plan where state funds could be used to reimburse local government funds used helping the shelter. Other ideas, from fund drives to asking church congregations for help, were also mentioned.

Several local church and civic leaders were also in attendance, as were officers with the Hazard Police Department, who said they see every day the immediate effects of cuts in services at the shelter.

“There’s not a day that goes by that you drive through Main Street and you see someone sitting there that’s homeless, and you know that they’re homeless because you’ve seen them up at the homeless shelter,” said HPD officer James East. “They have nowhere to go, nothing to do, no way of providing for themselves.”

When operating at full capacity, Corner Haven offers more than just a shelter from the weather. Many of the people who used the shelter full time were consequently able to hold down jobs at local businesses during the day, while the shelter also served as transitional housing until people could find residency elsewhere.

But for now, East noted, there is an immediate need to get the shelter back open full time, and he thinks this week’s meeting is a good first step in appealing to the community for help.

“We came up with some great ideas of how funding can help in the future, about how they’ve already applied for funding, got funding possibly in line to go forward,” he said. “But there’s an immediate need. The shelter is only operating at 50 percent.”

Adrienne Bush noted that while the City of Hazard did give money to Community Ministries last year, the organization can routinely expect to obtain funding from the federal and state governments each year. So far, however, the missing piece of the puzzle is from local government, and she thinks there is a role for local city and county governments in this region to play in forming a long term solution.

“If we can get both of our local governments on board in both Hazard and Perry County, then I think we can say, we as Hazard and Perry County are asking the rest of you in the Kentucky River Region – Knott County, Breathitt County, Letcher County – to contribute,” Bush remarked, adding that it will take the community, and not just Community Ministries, to address local issues of homelessness.

“I think that if we are going to work on helping people who are experiencing homelessness, it’s going to take everybody,” she said.

Financial troubles at homeless shelters aren’t exclusive to Hazard and Perry County. Shelters in Harlan and Bell counties have also hit hard times, noted Sen. Smith, and with unemployment still high has the local coal industry continues to struggle, it is imperative that the community pulls together to help ensure the shelter in Hazard gets back to normal.

“The battleground has finally fallen all the way back to us, and we absolutely have to hold the line,” Smith said.

A second meeting is scheduled for next Tuesday, Sept. 25 at City Hall at 9:30, following the monthly chamber of commerce meeting. Anyone who may be concerned about this issue or who may have ideas is urged to attend.

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