Gateway Footprints: Homeless shelter must find new home, raise $1.5M

COVINGTON, Ky – Bill Lawhead said he surrendered himself a few months ago, taking action toward recovering and gaining a better life.

“I got down on my hands and knees and prayed to my high power to give me strength,” said the 42-year-old recovering alcoholic and drug addict, who is also homeless.

That’s when he met Rachael Winters. 

Winters, the director for the Emergency Shelter of Northern Kentucky took in Lawhead in August. He joined the other 439 homeless served this year at the shelter which previously only housed adults during the winter but now also offers shelter during the summer.

“[She’s] very supportive, and a great influence on my life. If it wasn’t for her, I don’t know where I’d be today,” said Lawhead, a 1989 Holmes High School graduate who started drinking at age seven and smoking marijuana at 10. As he matured into a teenager, his addiction grew to drugs like prescription pills and cocaine.

He’s been clean from drugs for six years, he said. But he was still homeless and jobless.

The shelter and Winters, he said, have been instrumental in not only his overall recovery from a troubled, often-high past, but also in securing a job and finding housing of his own.

“It’s getting guys like me off the street and stabilizing structure in my life,” he said. “Giving [us] another chance at life.”

By the summer of 2014, guests like Lawhead will have to transition from homelessness at a new location. But first, the shelter needs to raise $1.5 million to do it.

Gateway To Buy Shelter

As Gateway Community and Technical College continues its urban transformation, it has started purchasing buildings throughout Covington, including the Emergency Shelter of Northern Kentucky, located at 634 Scott Blvd. just a block away from its main campus.

The community college will transform that block — which includes The Point, Dressman Center and the shelter— into a new Science and Allied Health Center, student center and parking that school officials hope will ultimately serve 5,000 students — 3,500 more than currently.

Kenton County owns the building and the City of Covington owns the parking lot that the shelter has been renting since 2008 at no charge.

Kenton County Commissioner Kris Knochelmann called the move a win-win for all involved.

The county and city have agreed to allot $100,000 from the $300,000 sale of the building and parking lot to Gateway toward the shelter’s move.

Over next 10 years the county will then allocate $20,000 per year to its operational budget, which is currently around $150,000.

"[The shelter will] receive full benefit of sale of building, and give them a leg up in finding a new location," said Knochelmann, who acknowledged a great need in the community for the shelter.

Gateway President Dr. Edward Hughes is excited to partner with the shelter, which already offers free GED classes to its guests and any other Kentucky resident.

“Our mission is to increase access and make region vital. We’ve got to be where the population is,” he said about the urban transformation. “We have ‘community’ in our name and that’s as important as ‘college’ in our name.”

“We can’t deny a need for a shelter and a college, so we have to work together to make both work,” said Hughes. “Community is the whole deal here, it drives our decisions.”

Cold Shelter Begins $1.5 Million Capital Campaign

There are 800 homeless in Northern Kentucky, but many more who are undocumented, said Winters, who serves as the director of the largest homeless shelter in Northern Kentucky.

“One aspect of our mission is to provide life-saving services to avoid the loss of life due to our cold weather,” she said.

Prior to 2008, there were people freezing to death on the streets or along the river, she said. Since opening, there have been no cold deaths in the county, said Winters.

“We believe that everyone, regardless of how sick they might be and regardless of their past are worthy of a warm, safe place to sleep.”

“There are very few places that accept people for who they are,” said Winters. “We are very accepting—where else would they go? If we’re not around, people will sleep outside.”

The move isn’t necessarily a bad thing, she said. The shelter has outgrown its current one-story 5,000-square-foot facility.

Every year the number increases.

The shelter housed 439 individuals last year, a 12 percent increase over the previous year.

“We need a new building. We’re serving too many people,” said Winters.
 
The shelter’s summer program has also expanded, helping 84 homeless individuals this year, graduating 38 into permanent housing.

Now, the shelter must move by next summer. And the search is on, as is the fundraising.

“As long as we can serve our mission, I don’t give rat’s butt where we go,” said Winters.

The Emergency Shelter of Northern Kentucky Board of Directors announced a $1.5 million capital campaign to facilitate relocation.

“The primary objective of the campaign is to raise funds for the shelter transition into an appropriate facility and continue to serve a growing homeless population in our communities,” said John Carey, president of the board of directors.

The cost to acquire an appropriate facility, renovate, and secure a long-term lease is estimated to be about $1 million. 

The secondary objectives of the campaign are to raise $200,000 to facilitate an increase in part-time shelter staff and another $300,000 to seed an endowment to supplement operations.

“The need to conduct a capital campaign to facilitate the shelter’s relocation and the continuation of critical emergency services and programs is a necessity,” said Carey.

While no concrete number is available, to date the campaign is already more than half way toward its goal, according to the board.

The shelter hopes to have a new location by the first of the year, said Winters.

To donate or volunteer, contact the Emergency Shelter of Northern Kentucky at (859) 291-4555.  

Photography by Jessica Noll, WCPO reporter and photojournalist

Graphics provided by Gateway

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