No shelter yet for Boone County's homeless, but activists aren't giving up

Despite several failed attempts, effort goes on
Posted at 7:00 AM, Aug 27, 2017
and last updated 2017-08-27 07:00:18-04

FLORENCE, Ky. — Boone County certainly has homeless people, or people who would be homeless if not for friends and relatives with room to spare. But will it ever have a homeless shelter?

Cindy Carris believes it will. But then, believing is in her DNA.

Carris helped organize the county’s only soup kitchen, the Mary Rose Mission in Florence, and serves as its president and executive director.

As previously reported, the Mission had hoped to open a hotel, with greatly discounted rates, inside the former Computer Mania store at 6608 Dixie Highway.

Called the Mary Rose Inn, the hotel would have served as a de facto homeless shelter. It would have had six rooms, each with its own shower/bathroom, which could house a total of 39. Guests would have had to check out each morning and could have checked back in the same day if there were room.

It would have enabled homeless families to stay together in the same room - a rarity. Homeless shelters typically segregate men and women.

Under regulations that govern where hotels and motels may be built, the Boone County Planning Commission approved the project. But a neighbor appealed to the Florence Board of Adjustment and Zoning Appeals, which reversed the decision after a three-hour hearing in June 2016.

Carris believes the decision was a reaction to residents’ fear.

“People don’t want homeless people living in the woods in their back yard, but when we say we will provide a place for them to help get out … they don’t want that either,” she said. “We have seen people get out with just a little assistance. … There are fantastic agencies that will help.”

After the appeals board’s decision, the Mission spent several months looking for another property. It was thought that it might be easier to get the proper zoning for undeveloped land “in the middle of nowhere” away from neighbors, Carris said.

This spring, the mission found a parcel that fit the bill at the intersection of Sam Neece Drive and Weaver Road. But that idea fell by the wayside when the Mission learned the cost of providing infrastructure to the inn would have been prohibitive.

Carris is still looking for a site for the Mary Rose Inn, preferably within walking distance of the Mary Rose Mission. When she finds one, she said, she’ll work a little harder to prepare the way. She thinks her first move will be to invite neighbors to the Mary Rose Mission to see some actual homeless people.

“They’re not the demons we have on television,” she said. “They are people who look like you and I.”

Meanwhile, two other social services organizations are doing what they can to shelter the shelterless.

For the fiscal year starting July 1, Boone County Fiscal Court agreed to fund the cost of an outreach team from Welcome House of Northern Kentucky. The team includes an outreach worker and nurse practitioner, who will identify homeless people in the county and provide them services, said Justin Beale, Welcome House director of income and benefits.

The Welcome House has received lots of referrals from the county jail and law officers, who now have the option to contact the team when they encounter homeless people they want to help, Beale said.

“We’re hopeful that through this program, we can really highlight the need” for services for the homeless, he said.

Welcome House operates a 28-bed shelter for women and children in Covington. The nonprofit also provides case management and employment services.

Northern Kentucky Family Promise leverages the work of volunteers from 39 local churches to provide shelter for families. It operates a day center where families can stay from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., seven days a week. At 5 p.m., the families head to one of 10 local churches, where they spend the night.

It’s the only shelter provided for homeless families in Northern Kentucky, said Executive Director Amanda Speier. But Family Promise can host only four families at a time, or 14 people in total. There’s a waiting list of about nine families, who are now staying with family and friends, Speier said.

The need for a family homeless shelter in the area is huge, she said.

Carris sees it all the time at the Mary Rose Mission, which in March began serving meals seven days a week and serves about 90 people a day.

One young family of four that eats at the Mission is couch-surfing from place to place. The children don’t yet understand that they are homeless, Carris said. The father’s looking for a job that can support a family of four.

“You can see the despair,” she said. “First you’re in shock, then you’re kind of angry, then you’re in despair and then you give up.”

Families like this one are the reason she’s not giving up on the Mary Rose Inn.

“It’s like I’ve been given this gift of pursuing this, and I’m not going to stop,” she said. “If the goal is just to build awareness, that’s OK. I know I have got to do this.”