Louisville’s shelters are regularly full, while over 500 unhoused people have nowhere else to go on any given night.
The unfortunate reality is that—without a significant, immediate investment in shelter—unhoused people will continue to camp in public spaces in Louisville for the foreseeable future. This reality is fueled by rising rents and the lack of affordable rental housing and supportive housing for the poorest Louisvillians.
The Coalition for the Homeless believes that no one should have to live on the streets or in camps—but unless we create an adequate supply of safe shelter and housing options, clearing camps does not solve the issue of homelessness. In fact, it only forces people to move from one camp to another, which intensifies and prolongs the problem.
Over 30 camps have been cleared so far this year, with more clearings announced every week. It is costly to continue to clear homeless camps with no available resources for people to sleep indoors. Most of the time when camps are cleared, those Louisvillians are simply forced to find new places to camp. Outreach workers then have to track down the new encampments, meaning a disconnection from services, which can lengthen homelessness. Some people have been cleared from encampments more than once and still have no other options.
Our city’s 21 day notice ordinance was created and passed to provide consistency and clarity around camp clearings on city property. However, most of the recent clearings conducted by the city are from state properties in Louisville, such as Interstate underpasses. In these cases, the city is instead providing anywhere between 24 hours and 10 days’ notice. These inconsistencies create confusion and unpredictability for people who are already in crisis.
Moving forward, our local government should create and fund new non-congregate shelter spaces; adopt policies to not clear camps on extreme weather days; change policies which allow for fewer than 21 days notice to people in encampments; and adopt a comprehensive extreme weather plan so people who are unsheltered can stay safe. At the very least, when there is a true safety concern and camps must be cleared, it should be done in a consistent, fair way that provides both ample notice and resources for people to move indoors.
We are grateful to the outreach workers and others who provide life-saving support during extreme weather, as they do all year round.
Camp clearings don’t end homelessness. If anything, they prolong it. Housing ends homelessness, and shelter saves lives. Louisville needs to immediately invest new dollars in providing shelter, especially when weather is dangerously hot or cold, in addition to continuing to increase our investment in housing for our poorest neighbors.
For the Coalition’s full series of recommendations for ending homelessness in Louisville, see www.louhomeless.org/newpath.