Northern Kentucky counts homeless, banks on funding

With strict budgets, outreach orgs relies on count

COVINGTON, Ky. – Brittany Miller wants everyone to know that each homeless person has a story unique to their situation, including hers. And every story counts.

Miller, 25, is one of hundreds of homeless who were counted in Northern Kentucky during a national count dubbed the K-Count, conducted last week over a 24-hour period. That count will determine how much money agencies aiding the homeless will receive for the year.

It’s money that will affect those like Miller, a single mother of three, addicted to heroin and homeless for the past month.

Brittany’s Choice

Miller said she chose drugs, particularly heroin, over her family and her kids. That’s why for the first time in her life, she is homeless.

After her mom died when she was 16, she turned to prescription drugs for pain caused by scoliosis. She became addicted to Percocet at age 22--all the while having children of her own.

At 19 she gave birth to her oldest. Two years later, she had her second child and a year later, her third followed.

It was at that time that her baby’s father introduced her to the latest street drug of choice: heroin. She was 23.

Soon thereafter, she lost custody of all three of her children.

Brittany Miller, 25, is a single mother of three, homeless and addicted to heroin. "Every homeless person has a story," she said. Jessica Noll | WCPO

The day that she was supposed to regain custody last year, she relapsed—choosing heroin again.

“I chose that route,” said Miller, whose children live with family members. “It’s been really hard.”

Miller, who was living with her grandmother, had to move out when her youngest moved in. Without having custody, she couldn’t live under the same roof. She turned to the Welcome House for help.

After about a month in the shelter, she said is choosing a future with her children.

“I have to get my stuff together or I won’t see my kids,” she said. “Reality hit. I’m 25 and I have three kids… I have to get my stuff together.”

She had to lose it all to realize all she had, she said.

Miller, who works full time on third shift at a factory in Florence, is enrolled the Ten/Ten Program, a drug rehabilitation program in Covington, working toward getting clean, staying clean and getting housing for her and her children.

Heroin Habit Pushes Homeless Shelters

Miller’s story is all too familiar to her caseworker Tiffany Neri.

It’s no secret that heroin has, in a short time, become an epidemic in Northern Kentucky, killing more than 236 in overdoses between 2011-2012 in Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties.

Before they lose their lives to the drug, Neri said addicts lose their jobs. They lose their homes. And they lose their families.

Then, a knock on her door at the Welcome House. They come in droves.

“It’s so easily accessible,” said Neri, who has seen addicts in broad daylight, on the street corner outside the shelter cleaning their needles.

In Kentucky, 1,398 of those counted as homeless last year were labeled under: ‘Chronic substance abuse’.

Neri has about 70 cases on her plate—half of those have a substance abuse problem and 90 percent of those are heroin addicts, she said. It makes her job challenging at best.

“Addicts need structure,” said Neri, adding that getting them clean and maintaining sobriety is instrumental in getting them off the streets and into a home again.

“We need more places for people to get in out of the cold, places for families,” Neri added.

Feeding Homeless Getting Tougher

Chef Mike Kleshnski, 32, has worked in some impressive kitchens in his young career, Corner Bistro and Cactus Pear, but these days, he is working in a smaller, less supplied pantry.

The Cincinnati State culinary school graduate has been whipping up meals at the Welcome House for the past two years. He said he works on less than a shoestring budget.

The Welcome House, in Covington, serves up to 30 residents at a time—and in the cold months, it’s every bit a full house. His mission: To feed all 30 residents, including children, two meals a day for $30.

While Kleshnski doesn’t receive the kudos and accolades he’s used to hearing as a chef in a restaurant, the now-minimum-wage chef said it’s always rewarding.

“You know you’re giving a service needed,” said Kleshnski. “I know the kids are eating.”

His food budget is directly affected by the K-Count and every number, every person counted, makes a difference in his kitchen. For him, budgeting is key.

The chef is given a strict budget of $1,200 per month. Two hundred dollars of that goes directly to milk. He’s left with $1,000 for 30 days, to feed 30 residents, two meals a day.

Kleshnski does his daily and weekly shopping at Kroger with a massive amount of coupons in tow; finds the best deals he can at the Freestore Foodbank; and utilizes free food donated by local philanthropists, as well as restaurants like Panera. 

People, By The Numbers

Last year, Kentucky counted 5,245 homeless—513 of those were under 18 years old.

In Northern Kentucky, the homeless count for 2013 was:
-Boone County- 24
-Kenton County- 255
-Campbell County- 124

Every person counts, said Jarrett Spisak, Street Outreach Program Leader. The number of homeless counted will translate into funding that each outreach program, shelter and resource center receives from the state. It’s money that helps fill in the gaps in services, he said.

Spisak, 27, and Abby Brinkman, 20, were part of the outreach street team all year round for the Brighton Center. During the K-Count, they go around from location to location, handing out hygiene kits, giving homeless men and women  a resource guide and asking them to participate in the survey.

Nearly 30 volunteers dispersed over an eight-county spread of Northern Kentucky to count the homeless on Jan. 29 at midnight. 

Jarrett Spisak, 27, and Abby Brinkman, 20, are part of the street team who spent 24 hours counting the homeless in Northern Kentucky, spanning over eight counties. Jessica Noll | WCPO

Coordinated by the Northern Kentucky Area Development District and Brighton Center in collaboration with Kentucky Housing Corporation, the state housing finance agency, and the Kentucky Interagency Council on Homelessness, they counted men, women and children and went to riverside camps, truck stops, and under bridges. Those in shelters were counted as well, but separately from the street count.

With as cold as it was on the day of the count, below zero at some points in the day, Spisak, said the number was looking to be lower than reality.

Last year, the team counted 157 on the streets, and totaling approximately 400 when the shelter residents were added.

In the 12 hours Spisak had been counting by Wednesday afternoon, he and Brinkman had surveyed and counted 50.

Last year, eight Northern Kentucky counties received $2,264,837, which was doled out by the Kentucky Housing Corporation, the state housing finance agency that administers the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development funds for the homeless programs on a statewide basis, Hurysz said.

For more stories by Jessica Noll, go to Follow her on Twitter @JessicaWCPO.

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